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Ageing society

Free ‘cook-it-yourself’ scheme serves Hong Kong elderly and lifts their spirits

Non-profit group hands out fresh food ingredients for some 600 people on society’s margins

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 July, 2017, 12:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 July, 2017, 10:09am

Receiving fresh food twice a week for free, Ng Sau-lan can now enjoy more nutritious meals and a better social life with her friends.

Every Wednesday and Friday, the 91-year-old grandmother visits a centre operated by non-profit social services group Haven of Hope to collect a pack of fresh vegetables and meat good for two to three meals.

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“Sometimes there are carrots or cabbages and pork or chicken,” said Ng, who lives alone in a Tseung Kwan O public rental flat. “Before, I didn’t have a diverse choice of food when I had to buy by myself.”

Fond of cooking hairy gourds with vermicelli and dried prawns, she saves around HK$50 each week thanks to the free food. What she saves she spends for an outing of dim sum with her friends – a luxury she said she seldom enjoyed in the past.

Ng relies on around HK$3,000 in monthly social security and is among the elderly people being helped by the group’s “Food Pack with Love” programme. Since 2011, the scheme has given out fresh food to underprivileged people aged 65 or older and those living alone or with a spouse who is in frail health.

According to the government’s latest poverty situation report released last year, 30.1 per cent of the city’s elderly population were defined as poor.

With fresh ingredients, I can arrange it myself and prepare the portion I want
Ng Sau-lan, scheme participant

In the scheme, Haven of Hope purchases food directly from suppliers, and from April last year to March this year, some 600 elderly people were served. This year, the fundraising goal is HK$1.5 million to support operations.

Compared with other schemes that distribute meal boxes to people in need, this one stands out, Ng said, because it enables her to prepare her own meals using fresh ingredients.

“I can’t keep leftovers [for long] if I leave a meal box unfinished,” she explained. “With fresh ingredients, I can arrange it myself and prepare the portion I want.”

Candy Wo Chung-ching, an operations general manager for district elderly community service of Haven of Hope, said the scheme aimed to give dignity to the elderly as it helped them.

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“We hope to give elderly persons greater freedom and flexibility,” she added. “They won’t lose their confidence just because they receive assistance.”

The scheme serves Tseung Kwan O and Kwun Tong, and provides a way for centre staff to stay apprised of the well-being of participants, who must visit in person to collect the food.

“We’re just here to help the poor who are at society’s margin and haven’t got access to proper social services,” Wo said.