Suspended meals, down-to-earth care
Some local restaurants have joined a charity programme in which customers pay for more meals than they have, which can later be served to the poor.
A 66-year-old man takes a slip of paper and stuffs it into the inner pocket of his threadbare jacket in joy. The slip of paper is a voucher for a free hot meal, which has been paid for in advance by a well-wisher the man never comes to know.
"I no longer need to compete with other street sleepers for leftovers," said Mr Au Kin-leung, who is one of the around 35 homeless people who sleep in front of the Jade Market in Sham Shui Po.
Inspired by the "suspended coffee" programme originated in Italy, in which coffee shop customers pay for more cups of coffee than they receive so that the poor can later be offered coffee at the shop for free, dozens of local restaurants are providing "suspended meals" for the city's needy – Mr Au is one of the benefited.
Volunteers for Christian non-governmental charity the Society for Community Organisation, which founded the Suspended Meal Programme in 2012 together with a restaurant owner, distribute around 2,000 suspended meal boxes and vouchers to the homeless per month on average, according to the restaurant owner Mr Chan Cheuk-ming.
The programme now has 30 partner restaurants across the territory. A Facebook Page named "Every district can enjoy meals", which provides information on the partner restaurants, has amassed more than 3,000 followers.
Mr Chan, whose restaurant is located in one of the city's poorest neighbourhood Sham Shui Po, delivers meal vouchers which can be redeemed for a $22 lunch each at his restaurant to the homeless with other volunteers every Saturday.
"We once sent out 2,000 meal boxes and vouchers and visited the needy six times over one week," said Mr Chan.
Donors can choose to deliver the vouchers to people in need by themselves, or volunteers will do it on their behalf. Some partner restaurants opt for providing suspended meals directly to the poor who pop in.
Ms Lienna Lau Lai-na, owner of a partner restaurant in Kowloon City, updates the number of available suspended meal boxes on a writing board at the entrance of her restaurant.
"The poor can just come in and ask for the meals," she said.
Ms Lau stresses voucher-holders will enjoy the same service as other customers.
"We will not judge people who redeem such vouchers by their appearances," she said. "That is what ‘equal sharing' really means."
But in order to prevent abuse of the scheme, the restaurant allows one person to redeem only one voucher per day.
Ms Lau says the programme has no negative effect on her business and calls for more assistance for the working poor, whose plight she thinks is too often overlooked, as well as street sleepers.
"We only provide a platform to serve the needy," she said.
"It is a community activity. I just hope it can create a harmonious society with more love."
Reported by Rainbow Li
Edited by Lavinia Mo
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