KINDNESS ONE CAN CONSUME
A look at the food banks in Shanghai which were set up by Shanghai Oasis Ecological Conservation and Communication Center, and the support they have been receiving from enterprises foreign and domestic
The “solidarity fridges” which first appeared in Spain last year made their debut in Shanghai earlier in October, and reception to this concept of sharing leftovers with the needy in society has been overwhelmingly positive.
Thirty food items, including milk, yogurt, rice cakes and canned food provided by supermarkets and restaurants, are placed in a fridge in a community activity center on Puxiong Road, Putuo district, every weekday. All residents of the community can help themselves to the items.
Wang Longying, a volunteer who helps residents with the registration required before they are allowed to take the items, said that the fridge is almost always cleared out before noon every day.
On the other side of the community activity center, however, there are also food shelves stocked with items such as rice, cooking oil, biscuits and milk powder. Only impoverished families in the community can access this selection and each family is limited to one food item per month.
The Shanghai Oasis Ecological Conservation and Communication Center, a Shanghai-based non-government organization, has since 2014 set up four such food banks in the districts of Pudong, Putuo and Changning. In the past two years, about 120 tons of food have been donated by more than 40 businesses, benefitting over 50,000 residents.
The problem of wastage
Statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations showed that while nearly 134 million people in China are suffering from hunger, some $32 billion worth of food is thrown away annually in the country.
The situation is no different in Shanghai. Based on statistics from the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau, more than 20,000 tons of household garbage is processed in the city every day, and food accounts for more than 10 percent of it.
Experts feel that all this wasted food can be put to better use, especially when 230,000 permanent residents in Shanghai were found to be earning just 2,190 yuan ($324) each month this year — the city’s lowest monthly income — according to the Shanghai Statistics Bureau.
“On one hand, we hope to help impoverished families cut down on food expenses and use the money saved for health and education purposes instead. On the other hand, we also want to help enterprises minimise their food wastage,” said Zhang Qiuxia, project director of the Shanghai Oasis Ecological Conservation and Communication Center.
Song Chunhui, director of Tangqiao Service Center for Social Organizations, which provides policy consultancy, training and cooperation for social organizations in the Tangqiao area of Pudong district, said the project is worthy of promoting as it turns individual assets that are bound for the landfills into useful social assets.
“Compared with the government’s subsidies for impoverished families, the project includes many enterprises and can actually reach more households. Moreover, the project is also a role model that shows people how we can take targeted measures to alleviate poverty,” said Song.
Zhang said that people who require help from the food banks can either apply for assistance themselves or seek recommendations from their neighbors or residential committees.
Upon receiving an application, the food bank will perform a background check to ensure the authenticity of an applicant’s social situation. The food banks also have diversified aid plans to help families with different needs.
“The basic food package is worth around 120 yuan and it includes rice, cooking oil and milk powder. We’ll also include infant formula if there’s a baby below the age of 3 in the family, and some snacks and milk if there’s a child between the ages of 4 and 18. We’ll adjust the aid package if it fails to meet their core needs,” said Zhang, who added that volunteers regularly communicate with families to find out if they have received the food and if the aid provided is sufficient.
Shanghai food banks receive firm support
Domestic and foreign support for the food banks have been growing steadily. In 2015, the food banks were backed by 42 donors, up from 29 a year before. French retail magnet Carrefour joined as a supplier in 2015 and Li Yuntao, public affairs manager for Carrefour East China, said that the company has donated 14 tons of food to the network in the past two years.
Song Zhengyuan, branding head of ucaiyuan.com, an e-commerce platform by Shanghai-based dairy producer Bright Dairy and Food Co Ltd, said the company has since 2015 been contributing to the food bank in Putuo district. Over at the food bank in Changning district, the bread is supplied by local chain bakery Relax Xinqiao.
“We have volunteers going to this bakery’s four outlets before they close every evening to collect and distribute the donated bread to impoverished families in the neighborhood. It’s an attempt to make the best use of local resources in our system,” Zhang said.
Fruitday.com, a Chinese fruit e-commerce platform, recently became a part of the initiative as well. Song Wenming, the company’s public relations director, said that Fruitday.com has arranged to deliver fruits to the banks every day as part of their delivery routines.
“I believe we should be promoting this public welfare project to more people and enterprises to let them know that there is a way to deal with food that they are about to abandon. As far as I know, the wastage rate of physical fruit stores is around 40 percent,” he said.
Safety the top priority
In a bid to ensure food safety, the food bank in Shanghai currently only collects food that are still relatively fresh, as compared to most food banks around the world which collect food items that are close to their “best before” dates. Also, individual donations are not accepted because of food safety concerns.
While this has ensured that the food banks have not received a single complaint regarding food safety, Li Bing, founder of Shanghai Oasis Ecological Conservation and Communication Center, said that it can also in turn discourage businesses from coming forward as it translates into a loss of profits.
Li added that while food products that are past their “best before” dates cannot be sold in many countries, they are still generally safe to consume within a period that is defined by half the duration of the production date to the “best before” date.
Li is also hoping that the food safety signs used in the country can be in line with international conventions, saying: “If China’s regulations in this area are revised, the policy of food banks can also be improved.”
Chen Xinghua, account manager of Yihai Kerry Kellogg Foods (Shanghai) Co Ltd, which has donated thousands of boxes of cereal to the food banks in the past year, said that the company usually chooses to donate products that are six months ahead of their “best before” dates.
“The most important thing we must ensure is safety. If we provide some products that are about to expire to the food bank, there may be possibility of transferring the risk to the consumers,” Chen said.
Moreover, the project is also a role model showing people how we can take targeted measures to alleviate poverty.” Song Chunhui, director of Tangqiao Service Center for Social Organizations
The "solidarity fridge" in the community center in Putuo district has been well received. Its contents are almost always cleared out before noon every day.
Volunteers sort food products at a food bank in Shanghai.