Launched in 2011 by Bo Charity Foundation, Food Angel is a food rescue and food assistance programme with the mission of “Waste Not, Hunger Not, With Love”. The programme rescues edible surplus food from different sectors of the food industry and turns them into nutritious meals for those in need.
Poverty and income inequality are serious issues in Hong Kong where one million out of its 7.49 million population live below the poverty line. At the same time, Hong Kong sends 3,565 tonnes of food waste to landfills every day.
Food Angel is neither the first nor the only organisation that collects edible food surplus and distributes it to those in need. However, they are one of the few organisations that is engaged in the entire process, from rescuing food, to storing it, preparing and cooking the meals and delivering it to those in need. Food Angel has made remarkable accomplishments with reference to its mission, providing over 30,000 service users with nutritious meals and to transform over 1,500 tonnes of surplus food into over 2.2 million meals for the needy every year. In doing so, Food Angel managed to improve the overall well-being of the service users – their health improves due to access to nutritious meals, their social connections are enhanced as they share meals at the community centre or are visited by volunteers, and their self-sufficiency improves as they save on time and money. Their provision of meals has enabled their charity partners including NGOs and churches to focus their energy on providing holistic services to the elderly. They are also the first to set up an experiential learning centre dedicated to this topic.
Perhaps more importantly, Food Angel has been able to build and sustain the momentum by continuously scaling up their operations and engaging increasing numbers of stakeholders including food and financial donors, charity partners, volunteers and communities of interests. Food Angel crafts their volunteering and educational experiences in a way that would deepen the participants’ understanding of the socio-environmental issues involved, their connection with the service users, and their desire to continue to contribute to the causes.
Taking a closer look at the case of Food Angel reveals several features and characteristics that set it apart: its ability to propel its launch riding on the social context in which food rescue and poverty alleviation movement was gaining momentum; its clear and appealing mission that anchors its work to a specific and tangible topic; its commitment to staying in touch with real needs on the ground; its founding team’s adaptive competency that enabled the organization to adopt new ideas and to deliver high quality work in a timely manner; its agility and flexibility in responding rapidly to evolving needs of society; its ability to attract and rally partners to join their cause; its emphasis on putting a human touch to their work; and its strong networks and connections that have coalesced into a collaborative platform supporting the continuous growth of the movement.
This case study will start with a brief review of the poverty and environmental issues involved, laying out the five challenges food rescue and food assistance programmes face and stating the imperatives for success. The seven factors contributed to Food Angel’s success are then explored, followed by an analysis of how these factors could be replicated. The piece concludes with a highlight of the impact of Food Angel and the opportunities and challenges ahead.
Hong Kong is one of the richest cities in the world. While the economy grew by 3% in 2018, in the same year 20.4% of the city’s population (i.e. 1.41 million people) were poor, with poverty rate on the rise. Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient stood at 0.54, which was at a 45 year high, indicating serious income inequality. According to the Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report 2018, 44.4% of the total elderly population (about 516,000 individuals) were poor; their poverty rate was more than double that of the overall population, largely because they were no longer able to earn an income. In addition, single-parent families and new arrival households are particularly vulnerable.
Poverty is not just a problem of inadequate income; it is a multidimensional social phenomenon associated with vulnerability, risk and social exclusion. Food is often the item people choose to cut back on to pay for other expenses such as rent, medical expenses and children’s educational needs. Lack of food and poor nutrition weakens a person’s health; food insecurity often causes stress among individuals.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), 1.3 billion tonnes of food were wasted globally every year. In fact, food waste contributed to 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 and was a considerable driver of global climate change since energy and resources were needed to rear, grow, process, package, transport, store, cook and dispose of food.
While some of this waste occurs during the production and transportation process, much of it happens at supermarkets, restaurants and our homes before it even reaches the dining table. Supermarkets often discard food when it does not meet certain quality standards such as shape, size and appearance, regardless of suitability for human consumption. Retail outlets may dispose of products well before it reaches its expiry date. At restaurants, portions are often too big and when customers cannot finish their plates, the food goes to waste. In the same report by the FAO, it was suggested that food waste is a result of our loss of respect towards food.
Nearly 4.2 million tonnes of municipal solid waste were disposed of at the three landfills of Hong Kong in 2018. Food waste made up the largest share, accounting for 31% of the total – around 1.3 million tonnes. This meant about 3,565 tonnes of food was thrown away and ended up in landfill every day. Despite this enormous waste of food, many of the city’s poor and disadvantaged citizens, ironically, cannot afford healthy and nutritious meals.
Food assistance and food rescue initiatives in Hong Kong emerged in the early 2000s. Some organisations purchased food and distributed it to those in need. Others rescued food from different sources and repurposed it. Some organisations also provided food vouchers for recipients to use at markets and restaurants. There were, however, daunting challenges involved in these operations of rescuing food and providing food assistance.
While the food industry welcomed organisations to handle their unwanted food at no cost, they were often reluctant to donate the food. One of the biggest hesitations was potential liability over donated food. If anything was done carelessly, it could result in wastage and contamination of food. Should anyone fall ill as a result of consuming the meals made from donated food, it could become a publicity disaster for all involved. Confusion over date labelling in food products was also an issue. Moreover, companies were not keen to meet the additional costs of labour, storage and transportation incurred while donating food. According to Oxfam Hong Kong’s report in 2014, 74% of food companies and 99.5% of food retailers did not donate any food to charity organisations.
Another challenge was to match what was available and what was needed or preferred by the recipients. The matching was made difficult in part because food donations can be irregular and inconsistent. Sometimes restaurants may suddenly have a huge lot of a particular food item to donate, or the amounts may fluctuate each week. This would make it difficult for charities to plan their daily meal preparations; a high level of operational flexibility would be required.
On the food assistance front, there were also various considerations. The food packages often carried low nutritional value and did not offer a balanced diet. The items included were generally staple foods such as rice and noodles, and other items such as oil and canned food. Voucher for fresh vegetables and meat may also be provided. These packages often did not take into account the nutritional requirements and practicability of different age cohorts and physical conditions of the service recipients. In terms of meals offered, the recipients also had cultural preference on the style of cooking and types of food they preferred. This added to food sourcing challenges as there were sometimes mismatch in the supply and demand of the food items.
Once the food was rescued, defining, identifying and reaching out to those “in need” also affects how the programme would be designed. The Government launched its short-term food assistance programme in 2009 in response to the economic downturn in 2008. This programme is delivered through eight NGOs and each recipient could normally receive food assistance for eight weeks only. The Government might have designed the programme to meet the needs of those who became unemployed due to the economic downturn. Many food assistance recipients, however, were elderly who were unable to earn an income. Their needs were likely to last beyond eight weeks.
At the operational level, the operation hours of some food banks were during office hours and often on weekdays only. Individuals who had to work will find it difficult to access such services. Even when individuals can access the food banks, some found it difficult to seek assistance because they felt ashamed or embarrassed for being unable to feed themselves and requiring assistance. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many food banks and community centres have either shortened their service hours or suspended their food assistance service, putting many service users in a difficult position.
How and who distributes the food will also have different effects. Very often, social workers were tasked with managing the food procurement, stock-taking and distribution processes, in addition to their regular jobs of case management, assessing the needs of applicants and following up with their clients. A result was that they were often overworked, causing delays in application processing and lengthy waiting time at distribution centres. They might also lack the time or technical expertise to effectively manage the food bank, sometime resulting in food rotting in the warehouse. Perhaps more importantly, providing food assistance could be a good opportunity to reach out to those in need to see how they are doing and whether they can benefit from other services, especially for elderly and vulnerable families. Under such a set-up, there was no opportunity for this process to take place.
Logistics was one of the biggest hurdles in food rescue and assistance operations. The first challenge was transportation. Especially for perishables, food must be transported swiftly from the food donors to the recipients to be consumed within a short period of time to ensure food safety. In order to keep the food (especially meat, vegetables and fruits) fresh, the vehicles may need to have refrigeration facilities. The food also likely comes from all over Hong Kong, demanding good coordination of pick-up vehicles.
Another observed challenge was insufficient space and facilities to store the donated food. To put in place refrigeration systems required space and costs which not every organisation could afford. It also required an effective system of stock-taking and tracking to ensure that foods were used before they become spoiled.
If hot meals were prepared, then there needs to be space and labour for processing and preparing the food. Once the meals were prepared, getting them to the recipients in a timely manner was crucial to ensuring the meals were still fresh and hot. As for dried food packs, organisations had shared that there was often insufficient space for distribution.
Given the high labour and rental costs in Hong Kong, it is difficult to afford sufficient space and labour resources to expand operations. Therefore, an organisation’s ability to expand hinges upon its ability to continue to secure monetary and physical resources. The organisation would also need to have garnered industry support to secure more food donations and have an extensive network of charity partners who would help reach more people in need continuously. Moreover, for such efforts to become territorial-wide, it would require presence in all districts in Hong Kong. While one organisation could expand to cover the whole of Hong Kong, it could also be a collective of organisations doing so.
In summary, to ensure a high-quality food rescue and food assistance programme, it is necessary to 1) have a management structure that is flexible and versatile enough to cope with unexpected circumstances and capture emerging opportunities; 2) have a combination of expertise that allows for effective programme management; and 3) have the right logistical set up to ensure not only food safety but also service design that can meet the actual needs of the service users. Building upon these management and operational imperatives, to scale up the programme, the team needs to 4) gain and maintain trust with food and financial donors to sustain and grow their operations; 5) maintain close collaboration with charity partners to extend its reach and be in touch with community needs; 6) internalize its vision and values to become part of the ethos of the organization, and 7) communicate its vision, work, and achievements to various stakeholders to garner more support and grow the movement.
Food Angel fulfils the management and operational imperatives required for a high-quality food rescue and assistance programme through different strategies. From a management perspective, their clear focus and core value provide a strong basis and guidance for their work. Their team members come from different sectors who have the necessary expertise and experience to design and operate an efficient and effective programme; the management structure is relatively flat and organic which allows for quick and flexible decision making. Operationally, they have also adopted a holistic approach to the logistics and physical set up of the operation which enhanced food safety and efficiency. Let’s look more closely at these success factors.
Food Angel is committed to two objectives - rescuing food to feed those in need, and raising awareness on food waste, poverty, and hunger. Both objectives can generate broad community support as they are non-controversial and cover both social and environmental causes, which appeal to a wide range of donors and stakeholders. Moreover, Food Angel’s focus on elderly in poverty resonates with many as the Chinese culture places great importance on respecting and caring for the elderly. Even when disagreements arise within the management team, this simple and clear mission serves as a focal point that brings the team back together and guides their decisions.
This clear focus on the theme of food anchors the work of Food Angel and guides their programme design and development. To enable themselves to further reduce food waste and provide more meals, Food Angel continued to diversify and expand their operation to cover more varieties of food. For example, they acquired trucks and storage spaces equipped with refrigeration facilities to receive frozen food donations; established their own kitchen to handle and prepare a wide variety of foods; operated a sizable logistics team, enabling them to collect excessive cooked meals from suppliers and deliver them in time to charity partners for distribution.
Food Angel was persistent in finding new and better ways to ensure the elderly, and increasingly other vulnerable populations such as single parent households, to have access to nutritious meals in a safe manner. The elderly and vulnerable families face an array of problems, but Food Angel knows they will not be able to meet every need. Therefore, while they do provide services that enhance the overall well-being of service users, their innovations and primary focus revolves around access to food.
Not only was Food Angel clear about what they were committed to do, they were also specific about how they do it. Their approach was enshrined in their core value of “with love”, which is expressed through a high level of care and attention paid to ensure what they do meet the needs of their service users.
In addition to ensuring food safety, founder Ms Gigi Tung placed great emphasis on the quality of the meals. She expected the quality of food to be high because she knew that this may be the only decent meal the person was going to have that day. Nutritionally, the meals were all low in sodium, sugar, and oil to ensure they are healthy. Food Angel also tried their best to accommodate different dietary needs and preferences. They seek feedback from the elderly on the quality of the meals and their levels of satisfaction. Sometimes when the elderly cancel their membership, staff would follow up to find out the reason, perhaps it is because they were getting meals from another organisation, or perhaps the meat was becoming too tough for them to chew due to deteriorating health but did not want to “cause trouble” and let Food Angel know. The meals, therefore, also serve as a means to gauge the condition and situation of the service users.
The meals Food Angel provide are a tool to convey their care for the recipient rather than mere sustenance. The service users were treated with respect. Once the elderly arrived at the community centre, they just needed to sit down and their meals would be brought to them, and rice would be refilled when they raised their hand. The staff and volunteers serving the meals often knew the elderly by their names, their family and background, and their general health conditions. These may be simple gestures, but it is this human touch that makes their service particularly valuable. In turn, it is this relationship with elderly that encourages the volunteers to keep coming back.
Reflections from a Volunteer: Creating Meaningful Connections
“I appreciate how Food Angel tries their best to accommodate the food preferences of each elderly. The staff at Food Angel is able to convey to the volunteers their love and care for the elderly, and this love and care is what draws the volunteers to support Food Angel. Since volunteering here, I would say my level of satisfaction with life has increased from 6 points out of 10 to 8 or even 9 points out of 10!”
Yi Ping, volunteer at Food Angel for 6 years
The founding members of Food Angel came from the private sector with extensive experience in marketing and sales and were very resourceful. They embodied what Brooks (2009) called the hallmark of social entrepreneurs, which is “to see opportunity when others only see a tragedy or threat”. They were relentless in pursuing their bottom line, which instead of profits was to feed elderly in need and at the same time reduce food waste. From the beginning, they knew they wanted to adopt a business approach to address the issues of hunger and food waste. This mindset was also what set them apart.
Like a business, they constantly explore new ways to improve their service and increase user satisfaction. They stay vigorously in touch with the need of the market (which was their service users) and the latest food technology available. They bring these observations back to the management team to discuss how the needs can be addressed and technologies applied to improve their service. Their non-hierarchical structure allowed for quick decision making. They are open-minded towards experimenting with novel suggestions raised by stakeholders such as businesses and donors and able to find suitable partners for their initiatives.
The senior staff at Food Angel also appreciated Ms Tung’s management style. She exhibited a high level of trust towards her staff. Once she shared an idea, she trusted that the team would be able to deliver. She was also willing to listen to their advice. She demonstrated unwavering faith and commitment to the cause and she led by example which was inspiring for the staff.
Since its establishment in 2011, Food Angel had grown from the four-member team to having around 100 full-time staff and a further 150 part-time staff. Despite this growth, their management structure has remained relatively flat and has managed to remain agile and flexibly when responding to rapidly evolving context and needs.
Food Angel’s prime concern was the effectiveness of their interventions in meeting the needs of their service users. They did have certain guidelines, such as service users’ selection criteria, but they did not put in place rigid rules of who can receive help from them, or cumbersome policies which would limit the scope of their work or slow down decision making. In fact, teams did not have individual key performance indicators or service targets to chase after, and this seemed to have fostered collaboration across teams rather than to fight for resources across teams. Their structure allowed them to respond quickly to requests, opportunities and changing contexts.
Reflections from a Charity Partner: A Helpful and Responsive Partner
Food Angel is a very helpful partner. They are clear about the food safety guidelines and are serious in ensuring these standards are met. When issues arise, they are very responsive and are willing to find solutions together. The information and knowledge exchange that takes place between the two organisations is useful and invaluable.
Life Commitment Charity Club
Not only did Food Angel try to meet the needs of the service users, they also tried their best to meet the needs of their stakeholders. A donor and a charity partner shared that Food Angel treated them as partners. They responded in a timely manner, considered the partners’ needs, and their attitude was always to find solutions together.
When Innovation Meets Food Angel
Food Angel’s adoption of the cook-chill technology at The Harvest Mill demonstrated the above factors in action. Food Angel was providing meals on weekdays only, which caused them to wonder – how do the elderly and families feed themselves over the weekend? They came to know about cook-chill technology and wanted to experiment and see if it could be a solution as the service users can bring meals home and consume them over the weekend. HSBC recognised the potential of this technology but was initially concerned about food safety. Instead of calling the rescued food “food waste”, it was renamed “food surplus” to emphasise that the rescued food is still safe for consumption. After deliberation, they decided to apply for ISO 22000 and HACCP certification for Harvest Mill to ensure the highest food safety standards are abided to.
When the cook-chill meals were introduced, charity partners and service users were lukewarm towards this approach. However, when COVID-19 hit, the cook-chill meals were very handy as it meant the charity partners can deliver four-days-worth of meals in one go, which means they would only need to deliver twice a week. This reduced contact between the service users and the staff, while still ensuring those in need have access to nutritious meals.
With the launch of Harvest Mill, Food Angel was able to produce an additional 10,000 meals per day. The adoption of cook-chill technology provided the basis for further innovation. For example, Food Angel was able to leverage support from The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust to introduce the Automated Food Dispenser programme, which provides convenient access to nutritious meals to 1,800 service users in early 2021, and the number is expected to grow as more Automatic Food Dispensers are deployed.
Food Angel knew what they need to further scale up and they had access to resources to make it happen. With a good grasp of what the on-the-ground needs and the latest food technology trends were, the Food Angel team knew what initiatives they wanted to embark on next and need funding for. They were then able to convince donors to support their cause because they were articulate about their vision and mission, had a solid operation, a stellar reputation and a clear and convincing plan forward.
They were proactive in reaching out to appropriate donors to support these initiatives. The founding members had extensive experience in marketing and communications, which contributed to their success in this area. Ms Tung and the founding members utilised their extensive network to build partnerships with corporations, high-profile donors, reliable charity partners, and the public. Their Board members are prominent figures in their industries as well. These partnerships allow for concerted efforts in tackling the issues of hunger and food waste.
In addition to securing resources required to scale up, Food Angel had also been successful in building partnerships with over 200 charity partners. These charity partners were crucial in helping Food Angel reach more people in need and obtain first-hand information about what the users’ needs were in different areas. It has also helped Food Angel to extend its coverage beyond Sham Shui Po area, reaching 18 districts.
Food Angel also embraced the concept of shared resources and collaborated with four schools to launch the Community Canteen programme. Not only does the programme make good use of the auditoriums or playgrounds by turning them into community canteen to serve free meals to an additional 490 individuals in need, students and parents of the schools help distribute the meals, which is a great opportunity to foster cross-generational interactions and for them to better understand the social issues involved.
In terms of daily operation, Food Angel requires 200 volunteers per day. In year 2019-2020, 63,668 service hours were generated by the volunteers. The volunteers themselves also became ambassadors of the organisation, further widening the support network.
Food Angel is now contributing to the food rescue and food assistance ecosystem by being a Strategic Partner of Food-Co, which is a platform that matches food donors, charities, volunteers and food recipients to direct surplus food to those in need. In doing so, Food Angel is maximizing its impact by facilitating the movement to continue to grow.
Ms Tung understood the importance of seeing the impact of one’s work to stay motivated. She insisted that staff at different levels be involved in frontline service delivery regularly so they could see the joy on recipients faces as they enjoy their meals. She led by example and could often be seen serving meals at their community centre. Such expectations and leadership inspired the staff to also dedicate themselves to serve their service users. Food Angel conducted comprehensive evaluation of their services every two years. On top of gathering necessary data to understand their performance, Food Angel also uses this opportunity to strengthen their bond with their service users. All Food Angel staff including the chefs are responsible for conducting user satisfaction surveys. This process allows all staff to be in touch with the very reasons the organisation exists, which serves to strengthen the staff’s buy-in. The service users also feel respected and treasured through these interactions.
Food Angel volunteers could learn, experience, act, and see the impact of their contribution. Food Angel is located in Sham Shui Po, a visibly poorer neighbourhood. This helped to demonstrate the context and needs of the service users. As the elderly were being served, the volunteers could see the elderly appreciate the meals and their efforts. Food Angel was able to create a strong sense of community and belonging through their thoughtful interactions with the elderly and this feeling is infectious. The intangible value of “with love” was made tangible at Food Angel and it made volunteers want to return to help again.
Food Angel places great emphasis on education as they believe “it is the most effective way to reduce food waste at source and build a caring community”. They promote the value of cherishing food and caring for the disadvantaged by engaging with schools, companies and the general public. Their educational programmes at Foodstep Journey, Hong Kong’s first experience centre on the topic launched in 2017 were designed to be highly interactive and fun so that the participants would take these issues to heart. They also organised a lot of promotional events which engage the public and generate media attention to widen their impact.
Food Angel began when rescuing food was still a novel concept and existing efforts were relatively small in scale and generally took on parts of the process only. The team recalled vividly the restaurants’ reluctance to donate food in those early days. At the same time, a passionate catering company recounted their failure in finding organisations willing to collaborate with them to utilise surplus food in offering low-cost meals to those in need. These anecdotes indicated that there was a gap to be filled.
Their establishment also coincided with the launch of the Government’s Food Wise Hong Kong Campaign. In response to the landfills reaching maximum capacity, the campaign aims to raise awareness about waste management challenges and to facilitate behavioural change. Part of the strategies has been large-scale public engagement events to explain issues of food waste as well as programmes to encourage restaurants to adopt different strategies to reduce food waste and promote the issue to their patrons.
The Government campaign and the work of Food Angel were complementary. These campaigns stimulated the public, food related industries and even donors to rethink what constitutes food waste, and how much of the “waste” was actually surplus food.
For an idea to become an opportunity, a range of contextual and strategic factors need to be considered. Kickul and Lyons (2012) developed the Social Opportunity Assessment Tool which grouped the factors into four areas of consideration, these are the social value potential, market potential, competitive advantage potential, and sustainability potential of an idea. This framework is useful in understanding how Food Angel managed to turn an idea into an opportunity and capturing it with great success.
The social value potential looks at whether the idea would “create social value for the customers, or target beneficiaries” (Kickul and Lyons, 2012). The social value potential of Food Angel is high. Their services directly address identified and substantial needs and in direct alignment with their mission of “Waste Not, Hunger Not… With Love”. Their impact is tangible and measurable. The amount of food rescued and the number of people and meals served are measurable outcomes of the programme. The act of providing nutritious meals to those in need and making use of edible food that was going to be thrown away are usually well-received by the community.
The market potential refers to whether the idea can address customer need or want. This is also high in the case of Food Angel. They began their operations at an opportune time when the food waste reduction movement was in its infancy. On one hand, there are those suffering from hunger who need and want the service to fill their bellies, and on the other hand, there are food donors who are seeking out risk-free and cost-effective ways to handle their food waste. Reducing food waste and feeding people in need appeal to a broad spectrum of donors as it hits upon both social and environmental themes. The market size is large, as seen from the substantial amount of food waste generated and the high number of people experiencing hunger.
The competitive advantage potential and sustainability potential focus on the operation level of the venture. Food Angel strategically places themselves in a highly competitive position, which also enhances their sustainability potential. The complex and expensive logistics involved in the rescuing, preparing and delivering food safely poses a high barrier to entry. Instead of limiting their scale to minimise logistical challenges, Food Angel took on a holistic and entrepreneurial approach and tackled the whole chain from rescuing food from food donors, to processing, cooking and packaging the food, to serving meals at their own facility as well as delivering them themselves and through charity partners.
Having their own centralised kitchen and meal production facilities allow Food Angel to ensure food safety at every step of the operation. They also scaled up gradually and systematically, adopting appropriate technology with suitable donor support along the way. These strategies reassure food donors that the food they donate will be handled according to the highest standards to avoid food safety issues. It also enables charity partners to forgo the worries of sourcing or preparing the food and focus solely on getting meals to those who need them.
The competitive advantage of Food Angel is further enhanced by its extensive network and ability to build partnership and alliances. Members serving on Food Angel’s Board are well-connected individuals, with former Financial Secretary Mr Antony Leung as Chairman. With such a line up, it adds to their credibility. They were great at communicating and promoting their compelling mission and were skilled in building strong partnerships with allies. Donors of food and funds were rewarded and encouraged to continue their support with positive publicity, which serves as a push factor for others to support the cause as well. For funders, Food Angel has a reliable and dedicated team which can be entrusted with considerable sums as they have proven their capacity to utilise funds responsibly. This enhances the operation’s sustainability. While other NGOs may aspire to adopting a holistic approach, no other programme has been able to enjoy the same level of financial and food donation support as Food Angel does currently.
To help them sustain their operation, their venture capacity (sufficient physical resources) and capability (sufficiently skilled entrepreneur and staff) are high. While they look to scale up where appropriate, they do so in a prudent manner. They pursue a new project only when they can secure the funds and technical expertise required, while maintaining a healthy level of funding and reserves to ensure the existing projects can be sustained.
Finally, their core value “With Love” put the human touch into their operation and urged them to keep in touch with what was happening on the ground, constantly innovating and developing their service to better meet needs, and ensure all stakeholders feel welcomed and cared for when engaging with Food Angel. This increases the stickiness and effectiveness of their activities.
In addition to having access to nutritious meals, service users of Food Angel generally also experience improved wellbeing as they save on time and money, and improve on emotional wellbeing, health, and social connections. An elderly informed us by having access to meals at Food Angel, he could spend his spare time doing exercises at the park. Food Angel estimated that elderly spends HKD1,900 on food per month. By receiving meals from Food Angel, this cost can be spared to meet other needs.
Service User’s Sharing – It’s More Than Just Food
“Not having to prepare our meals means I have more spare time to go do exercises at the park to stay healthy. It also helps us save money!”
Uncle Chung, 84 years old, meal recipient
Another elderly said she and her neighbours did not use to greet each other, but because they all took food at Food Angel’s community centre, they started greeting each other, and she appreciated that. Moreover, the volunteers and staff use the meal distribution as an opportunity to check on how the service users are doing and whether follow up is required. This is particularly valuable when there are hidden cases of elderly in need of additional support.
Their volunteer programme is highly successful. The enthusiasm of staff and volunteers and their attentive care for the elderly successfully created a sense of belonging. This helped build a connection among people and made them want to volunteer repeatedly. Volunteers had also reported feeling happier as they built meaningful connections at Food Angel. For Food Angel, the volunteers are not only vital to its operations. They also act as its ambassadors, sharing their experience and knowledge on the issues of food waste and hunger with their families and friends. Receiving such information through word of mouth is often more effective than mere publicity.
Looking at the figures, Food Angel produced 40,000 nutritionally balanced meals and 10,000 food packs per week in the year 2018-19, covering around 30,000 service users. With the introduction of cook-chill technology, these numbers are set to rise, covering a greater number of people in the future. Food Angel has certainly contributed to improving the hunger (SDG2) and poverty situation (SDG1) of these vulnerable groups.
Food Angel rescued 1545.8 tonnes in the year 2018-19. Considering the daily amount of food waste generated in Hong Kong in 2018 was 3,565 tonnes, the amount Food Angel managed to rescue has been astonishing. As mentioned, food waste is a significant contribution to climate change. By reducing food waste, Food Angel’s achievement certainly constitutes climate action (SDG13). Food Angel’s efforts also contribute to the development of sustainable cities and communities (SDG11) as it helps address waste management issues and build social capital through its community centre and outreach work.
By taking care of the logistics of food rescue and turning the food collected into nutritious meals, charity partners were able to focus on delivering meals. This often allows their services to be more holistic and tailored as they address the wide variety of needs the elderly has.
Food Angel managed to bring different stakeholders including donors (food and financial), volunteers, service users, charity partners, students, corporates together to work towards a common goal. It is a demonstration of effective partnerships (SDG17). They also created momentum around reducing food waste. Although we cannot draw a direct causation relationship, considering how small this market was and how low the level of awareness was when Food Angel started and the size it has reached, it could be said Food Angel had contributed to the popularising of the idea of donating surplus food to those in need. This increased the readiness of stakeholders from food related industries to consider donating food. Their programme also provided an action point in response to publicity campaigns on reducing food waste.
As Food Angel continues to grow and the world changes ever more quickly, several challenges lie ahead.
Organisationally, Food Angel has grown from a four-member team to a sizeable organisation. They realise it is necessary to develop their standard operating procedure to sustain their impact and continue to grow. However, the challenge is to introduce structure without compromising their agility and flexibility. In addition, as highlighted above, their core value is one of the keys to their success, but it is also difficult to pass on the batons because it is intangible.
Looking more broadly, COVID-19 has brought the world economy to a halt. In Hong Kong, the GDP growth forecast for 2020 was set to be -6% to -8%, and likely to get worse as the pandemic continues. Businesses have been hard hit as people chose to stay home, with restrictions being imposed on business hours and number of customers allowed at restaurants. Travel restrictions meant there were no tourists as well.
Many service providers reported a jump in demand for food assistance. The needs of these individuals are likely to be long-term because employment opportunities are likely to remain limited due to economic decline. Service providers are struggling to keep up with the increased demand.
Challenges also present opportunities. Introducing the cook-chill technology has enhanced Food Angel’s resilience and enabled them to continue to provide meals to those in need even when theirs and their partners’ community centres had to close. Food Angel will continue to track and attempt to apply the latest food technologies to be better equipped for the future. They would also make reference to successful overseas models. It is also Food Angel’s aspiration to have community level operations in different districts so that more people could benefit from their services.
With their unwavering commitment and dedication to filling the bellies of those in need, having the capacity to deliver upon their ambition, and being able to rally stakeholders to join the cause, Food Angel is on track to further expand their social and environmental impact.