As the world is gripped by the pandemic, Gingko House Love Project founder Kenneth Choi tells us why we should be helping those in need – and especially now.
Gingko House, a social enterprise that advocates senior employment, has been providing opportunities for the elderly in Hong Kong’s food and beverage industry for almost 17 years. Today, the group continues to help the underprivileged but has branched out to support more people in other ways. One of them is the Gingko House Love Project.
Tell us about the Project.
Gingko House Love Project (GHLP) is an online platform that allows our fanbase to buy something [currently the online store offers rice boxes, soups and drinks] for those in need. Instead of delivering the item to the person who bought it, we deliver it to underprivileged groups, as well as more than 110 local charities in Hong Kong.
What inspired you to start it?
During the Mid-Autumn Festival I started thinking how many mooncakes I usually receive from family and friends during that holiday. As someone who doesn’t eat many sweets, I usually end up with extra mooncakes. Some friends who were experiencing a similar problem. It got me thinking about those who are less privileged and don’t have the chance to eat mooncakes at all, because they’re out of their reach economically.
So for Mid-Autumn in 2016, I decided to start a pilot project (GHLP) that would require the elderly staff at Gingko House to make mooncakes for the needy. My goal was to have our fanbase buy them online – we’d make them and distribute them at our restaurants.
I didn’t have much expectation, to be honest. I thought if I could get a few dozen or even a couple hundred, I’d at least be able to give some away to those who need them. Turns out that many people had the same idea and we ended up giving away more than 10,000 mooncakes on our first campaign. We called it the Love Project, because we wanted to spread love and joy to everyone in Hong Kong. We also thought that supporting the people in the community would make us better as individuals and as a social enterprise.
Who are the underprivileged groups in Hong Kong?
To name a few, we support single-dwelling senior citizens, street sleepers, low-income families and CSSA (Comprehensive Social Security Assistance) recipients, or those who can’t support themselves financially. Many of them suffer from financial problems and emotional issues. We hope that receiving a small gift during the holidays can help cheer them on and lift their spirits.
What do you think about the current situation in Hong Kong, in terms of support for these groups of people?
When the coronavirus outbreak began, government and NGO support centres closed down. This forced many of their beneficiaries to search for other organisations to receive goods for daily sustenance. Before this time, we distributed approximately 150 rice boxes a day. Now, we’re averaging more than 600. The need is there and we’ve been doing our best to accommodate where we can. As well as the rice boxes, we’ve been giving away protective masks, hand sanitiser, bottled drinks and fresh fruit.
Can the public join or support the Love Project?
Yes, absolutely. There are currently two ways to support: first, those who wish to buy a rice box can do so online at love.org.hk, and second, those who’d like to volunteer can register at love.org. hk/volunteer.
What does a Love Project event entail?
For our campaign-based events [such as mooncakes], we usually collect funds online 30 days before the event or holiday date. After about two weeks, we start preparing the distribution item. In some cases, it could be a gift that needs packing or assembly. Our senior staff at restaurants, along with our volunteers, come together and make the gift. As we assemble the gift, we also arrange distribution. Volunteers give them out by hand to street sleepers and we work with neighbourhood leaders to arrange distribution events near housing estates for single-dwelling senior citizens. We also distribute directly to the more than 110 NGOs in our distribution network.
For ongoing campaigns, our largest operation is the rice-box giveaway at our Yau Ma Tei restaurant branch. We make more than 300 rice boxes for lunch and dinner, which volunteers help us pack and distribute every day.
What part of the Project are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the people who support the Love Project. Without these supporters, we wouldn’t be able to give away this amount of goods to people who really need them. We have more than 5,000 registered volunteers in our volunteer pool. I’m overwhelmed by the support of people who are willing to put their time and money into our project. We feel that our Love Project has turned into a community movement, aimed at helping those in need. We’re very proud to be able to organise and redirect resources to support them.
What’s next for the Gingko House Love Project?
In the immediate future, we’re looking for ways to support our community in a post-Covid-19 environment. Our restaurants will remain open and service won’t stop. However, we’re now also looking at ways to continue operations within the F&B space, while being aware and ready to respond to future outbreaks.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about Gingko House of the Love Project?
So many individuals and companies have given us goods that, in turn, we distributed to the needy. We just want to give a heartfelt thank you to all those who’ve either supported Ginkgo House by eating at restaurants or purchased something for the underprivileged via the Love Project. Thank you!