Operation Santa Claus

Organic frozen food project that hires elderly Hongkongers wins HK$800,000 funding from Operation Santa Claus

Everbright Concern Action was competing against 27 other community projects at a pitching day held by the Chinese University of Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 October, 2018, 7:41pm
UPDATED : Monday, 01 October, 2018, 9:19pm

Seeing the elderly regaining confidence and making friends at work, Kenneth Choi Man-kin from Everbright Concern Action is opening an organic frozen food production line to offer simple jobs to the city’s retired residents.

The project, which won the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s NGO Leadership Programme 2018 Pitching Day to secure HK$800,000 funding, involves selling frozen dinners made from organic produce. It solves the overproduction problem in some local organic farms while helping senior citizens earn a living and expand their social network after retirement.

“I’ve seen senior citizens who were really shy during the interview, but once they get into our restaurants, they are more confident and have a new circle of friends which is extremely difficult to find as you enter your later stage in life,” Choi, 33, said.

Everbright Concern Action has been operating a restaurant and a food packaging line since 2013 and hires senior citizens with a salary ranging from HK$36 to HK$50 an hour depending on their skills and experience.

Research conducted by the Census and Statistics Department in mid-2016 found that 15.9 per cent of the city’s population of 7.4 million were aged 65 or older, compared with 12.4 per cent in 2006.

Choi had observed that some senior workers found frontline restaurant duties difficult. He believed that simple packaging work could be an alternative for financially-needy seniors.

The frozen products, which can extend the shelf life of organic produce by a few months, will be sold at its restaurant and online shop.

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Choi wanted to raise the demand for organic produce after seeing one-third of its supplier’s yield going to waste due to its short shelf life and high distribution costs.

“Each restaurant probably only needs 10kg of a certain vegetable a week, but in the farm, you can’t tell the soil to give you 10kg today and put it on hold for another week,” he added.

Choi was one of the 28 participants who pitched their community projects for the HK$800,000 funding from Operation Santa Claus, an annual charity campaign jointly organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK.

Other projects included a Christian charity, HOPE, offering after-school support services to children with special educational needs such as those with autism and hyperactivity disorder, and the Audio Description Association developing an app to translate visual images into verbal descriptions for blind people.

Choi will spend the funding on hiring four to six more senior workers and buying equipment such as freezers and blast chillers over the next three years, with an aim to break even in 20 months.

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All contestants, from companies to non-profit organisations, have gone through a nine-month training course organised by the Department of Social Work at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) that aimed to introduce business strategies to leaders in the welfare sector.

The course offered three training modules on model development, resource management, and media and communications. It also paired up participants with mentors from UBS and CUHK.

Choi found the programme very helpful, especially the opportunities of networking and learning from his mentor from UBS who taught him how to pitch clearly and concisely, a major reason why he believed he caught the attention of the adjudicators.

One of the judges, professor Steven Ngai Sek-yum from the Department of Social Work at CUHK, said the quality of pitches this year was very high, with a large variety of services from animal protection to assistance for asylum seekers.

“What was different this year is that all the presentations were very interesting, with videos, graphics, and music,” Ngai said. “Although we had 28 presentations in one afternoon, I didn’t find it boring at all.”

Ngai also mentioned that many non-profit organisations that receive funding regularly may find it hard to jump out of their comfort zones, but with more business skills equipped, they will learn to work more innovatively and efficiently.

Undersecretary for Labour and Welfare Caspar Tsui Ying-wai, who was on the judging panel, said he focused on projects that were innovative and sustainable while being able to get the community involved and incorporate new technology.

“The participants gave us a lot of new ideas on something that the government is not yet ready to start. If they do well, they will lay a foundation for us in the future to consider normalising these new projects,” he said.

He added that the programme had successfully brought the think-out-of-the-box spirit from the business sector to the welfare sector, assisting the development of the public sector in the long run.