As poverty in Hong Kong hits a record high, the latest statistics have revealed that one in five people live below the city’s poverty line. Meanwhile, Hong Kongers throw away around 3,300 tonnes of food every day.
Recent analysis done by the Hong Kong Council of Social Services has found that around 71,000 low-income households survive on less than HK$15 for each meal per person when the metropolis throws away the amount of food that is capable of filling 220 double-decker buses every day.
Food waste accounts for one-third of the city’s municipal solid waste. The excessive food wastes and insufficient food supply create an imbalance in the food system.
Gabrielle Kirstein, the executive director of Hong Kong’s first food bank Feeding Hong Kong, spotted the disparity in the food system when she first came to Hong Kong ten years ago.
Kirstein refers to her team at Feeding Hong Kong as the food rescuers – bridging the gap between hunger and poverty by saving surplus food from around the city and delivering them to the hands of people in need.
Just last year, the food bank had rescued 520 tonnes of food which makes up to 1.2 million meals for society’s vulnerable.
“We focus our resources on food collection, storage and transport,” said Kirstein, as the company relies on over 70 of their community and charity partners to relay these rescued foods to seniors, school kids, low-income families, single parents and more.
J-Life Foundation is one of Feeding Hong Kong’s beneficiaries. Alongside various other services that the community centre offers to the Sham Shui Po community, members of the centre also get to receive food distributed by the centre.
Recipients’ needs get assessed by J-Life and the centre assigns the most suitable service to the individuals or families.
The founder of Feeding Hong Kong believes that these frontline charities know the needs of the communities that they serve best. The food bank adopts a business-to-business-to-business model, acting as the conduit between food companies and charities.
“It is like a win-win situation. Our charity partners receive our donation at no cost, and companies in the food industry can deal with their food wastes more efficiently,” said Kirstein.
At this point you might ask, where does Feeding Hong Kong’s food come from?
“We corporate with over 200 food companies, including Wellcome, Maxim’s and Pizza Express,” said Kirstein.
The food bank has a team of devoted drivers who drive around Hong Kong every day to collect surplus food from different food companies. Pizza express’ restaurant chain is one of the drivers’ most popular destinations.
“Our dough is baked fresh each and every day, and sometimes, inevitably, we have leftover fresh dough” said Joan Cheng, Senior Brand & Marketing Manager at Pizza Express.
Pizza Express is one of Feeding Hong Kong’s long-term corporate partners. Through a program that the restaurant had devised with the food bank, leftover fresh dough is baked into flatbreads daily and sent to the food bank for redistribution.
“In a city where people dine out in abundance we are also conscious of those less fortunate,” said Cheng.
Kirstein said most of these food donations are fit to eat but has lost its commercial value.
“Manufacturers, distributors and retailers are very kind in supplying us food with no charge at all,” said Kirstein.
But the food bank’s food collection does not limit to just the food bank’s drivers, ardent volunteers are also a big part of the food rescue mission.
Bread Run is the food bank’s flagship volunteering program. Twice a week, bread runners collect surplus bread, sandwiches, salads or other baked goods from Feeding Hong Kong’s bakery partners, including Maxim’s and Pret a Manger.
“On a quiet night, we may only get around 500 pieces of bread, and 2,000 for a busy night,” said Ivy Lo, Feeding Hong Kong’s volunteer manager. “Each week, we have around 100 volunteers who assist us in our Bread Runs.”
After volunteers collect these surplus items from bakeries, they drop them off at the food bank’s warehouse in Yau Tong.
“Not only does Bread Run save bread from going to our landfills, it also brings volunteers to our warehouse,” said Lo.
Raising awareness about food waste, hunger and poverty is one mission that Kirstein has never given up on since the food bank’s establishment.
“We give our bread runners, or any volunteers, a tour around our warehouse whenever we can, especially kids, it is very simple to start making your change – order the right amount of food at the restaurant or shop only for groceries that you need,” said Kirstein.
Kirstein believes Feeding Hong Kong’s volunteers are the most powerful ambassadors of what the company believes in.
“Our volunteers are the ones making the difference and impacting society, they, feed Hong Kong,” said Kirstein.
Every year, Feeding Hong Kong hosts a volunteer gathering to celebrate with volunteers the company’s achievements – number of food rescued and the amount of people that these rescuers have fed.
With only 13 full-time staff, volunteers are of immense worth to the company. “It is a united effort from all our contributors,” said Kirstein.
The title of an executive director has never stopped Kirstein from getting involved in the nitty gritty of the company’s operations or feeling passionate about helping as many people in society as possible. Perhaps, this is the key to becoming an influential social enterprise.