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NGO redistributes leftover bread which might end up in landfill to the needy.

By Alexia Leung and Pauline Yau

Carrying bags full of baked goods on their shoulders, volunteers collect surplus bread from bakeries in Wan Chai to help people in need every Friday. One of them is Sachin Mital, who shares that it is the rightful act to offer a hand.

The volunteers of an NGO, Breadline, pick up leftover bread from bakeries on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon at closing time and distribute it to those in need across the city. 

“I do this because I think it is my moral responsibility and obligation–not even a choice. If I have the privilege of not worrying about where or when my next meal will come from… I think this is the least I can do to play even the smallest part to minimize someone else’s suffering,” says the management trainee at the University of Hong Kong.

“I had just finished my tutoring and immediately left so I could reach here! We come every Friday night to pick up (bread) from Causeway Bay and go back to Tsim Sha Tsui to distribute them,” he says.

Mital adds that he also tries to invite others to join. 

“I shared the charity work I do in some community groups at the University of Hong Kong. One of my friends who tried this quite liked it. Even when not volunteering, I am more attentive and try to provide food or water (to the homeless) wherever I can,” he says. 

Another volunteer, Adrian Wong On-hing, starts volunteering after learning about the project from a friend.

 “I just hope to do whatever I can to help the charity so that more homeless people can be supported,” he says. 

 “Usually my Fridays are for resting, but now I go to the charity. I think the time spent on charity work is negligible considering the difficult conditions homeless people face,” the sixteen-year-old student says. 

Wong shares that volunteer work makes him treasure what he has more. 

“I believe the experience makes me more mindful. Wasting food makes me feel guilty, as now I know I have the luxury of wasting it while others have a hard time getting it. It is quite heartbreaking when I am having fun while there are people starving in the cold,” Wong says.

Mital and Wong are two of the 1,500 volunteers of Breadline, which has helped give new life to over 350,000 loaves of bread since 2020.

Collaborating with over 170 bakery and cake branches such as Maxim’s, Yamazaki, and Saint Honore, the NGO served over 160,000 breakfasts for those in need in 2023.

With the help of the charity group’s crowdsourcing app, volunteers connect with bakeries to pick up leftover bread so that food waste can be avoided and people in need can be supported. 

Currently, there are four drop-off points for the bread gathered from bakeries: Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hang Hou, and Sheung Wan. Volunteers from different charities such as Hanuman Charity, Grassroots Future, Refugee Union, and Impact HK then collect the bread gathered by volunteers and distribute it to the underprivileged, including refugees, the homeless, and low-income families.

Breads are packed into boxes by drop-off points managers.

To ensure food safety, only bread without filling is collected for redistribution. 

“Pastries like cream roll cakes and cocktail buns are not wanted because they easily expire. Bread for redistribution must be individually packaged. Often, there are ten to thirty pieces of baked products left in this bakery,” a salesperson at one of the Saint Honore branches says. 

Breadline volunteers try their best to care for the underprivileged. 

Wong Fook-hing, who has been volunteering as a drop-off point manager in Causeway Bay for four years, takes the volunteers’ attendance, puts the bread into boxes, and redistributes the bread to volunteers from different charities.

“I bought these plastic boxes (which are used for packing bread) using my own money because I want to make sure their dignity is respected. The people who receive these breads are already in poor shape, so I just thought, why not give it our best and care a little bit more,” he says. 

According to the Environmental Protection Department, Hong Kong throws away 3,200 tonnes of food daily to landfills. Meanwhile, 20% of Hong Kong people live in poverty and experience hunger in their daily lives, figures from the Census and Statistic Department reveals. 

Hanuman Charity, one of Breadline’s partners, helps distribute the collected bread to the homeless.

Breads are distributed to the homeless.

“Breadline has been instrumental in supporting our NGO by providing us with edible bread that we can distribute to our regular recipients. This allows those who are homeless or the underprivileged to have access to food when they are hungry,”  Naveen Sadhwani, founder of Hanuman Charity, says. 

“Currently, our NGO has up to ten volunteers to help distribute bread and regular meal bags we prepare,” he adds. 

Breadline’s founder,  Daisy Tam Dic-sze, shares that it is important to cater to the special needs of different needy groups.  

“We try to find individually wrapped bread, which is more hygienic for redistribution, especially for the homeless, and also soft bread for the elderly,” she says.  

Tam is considering expanding her operation to cover the northern New Territories by adding a drop-off point and developing partnerships in the area. 

“We are exploring opportunities with a team of cyclists called iBikeHongKong to see if they could be a good match for collecting bread in the Sha Tin, Tai Wai, and Tai Po areas because they are linked with cycling lanes,” Tam says. 

*Names changed at interviewees’ request

Edited by Sunnie Wu

Subedited by Sean Pan