Operation Santa Claus

Social enterprise restaurant offers Hong Kong’s senior citizens job opportunities – and dishes up new careers

  • General manager Kenneth Choi says Gingko House has long been a keen supporter of employment for senior citizens
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 10:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 10:05am

Kitty Li Siu-yin, 69, says she enjoys working in a social enterprise restaurant that has helped many elderly Hongkongers to restart their careers.

The former office worker, who now waited tables, was hired by Gingko House – Viet Street in November last year after responding to a job advertisement. The eatery, situated in Yau Ma Tei, is known for its Vietnamese cuisine.

Li said she had adapted to her new workplace. As with her colleagues, she greets patrons in a friendly and courteous manner and always wears a smile.

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“I want to continue to work while I am still able,” she said.

Li was thankful that management had taken older workers’ condition into account.

“I work an eight-hour shift, while the 10-hour workday is the industry norm in Hong Kong.”

The restaurant chain Li works for is one of a growing number of employers offering job opportunities to the city’s senior citizens.

Gingko House general manager Kenneth Choi Man-kin said the social enterprise had long been a keen supporter of employment for seniors.

“The elderly workers are a treasure to us,” he said. “They have a wealth of experience and can add value to our business.”

The firm paid above-market rates, Choi added.

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He said he also helped run the social enterprise’s partner, Everbright Concern Action, which was opening an organic frozen food production line to offer simple jobs to the city’s retirees.

The new project won Chinese University’s NGO Leadership Programme 2018 Pitching Day and was named one of the beneficiaries of Operation Santa Claus, the annual charity campaign jointly organised by the South China Morning Post and government broadcaster RTHK.

Its operation involved selling frozen dinners made from organic produce, with a view to solving overproduction problems at some local organic farms while helping senior citizens earn a living after retirement.

Choi said the food production unit would provide job opportunities for seniors who lacked the physical stamina to stand for long hours at work in a restaurant.

Some senior citizens have financial needs. Some of them may feel lonely at home
Kenneth Choi, Gingko House general manager

“They may sit down to work. And the work environment is less stressful,” he explained.

The funding from Operation Santa Claus would be spent on hiring four to six elderly workers and buying equipment such as freezers and blast chillers over the next three years.

In addition to food packaging, the unit in Fo Tan would produce handmade food such as dumplings for the retail market.

Choi said many senior citizens in Hong Kong yearned to work after retirement.

“Some may have financial needs. Some of them may feel lonely at home,” he said.

“As a social enterprise we have to work out how to match their condition to jobs and put this older workforce to good use.”