Hong Kong’s Meals Angel turns surplus meals into scorching meals, with a lift from know-how

It’s lunch time and the click-clack of chopsticks is the one sound on this sunlit group middle in Kowloon, Hong Kong. About 30 grey-haired diners sit at small tables, dipping into steaming bowls of rice, pork stomach, leafy greens and lotus root soup.  

Au Shu Kei, 88, carrying a flannel shirt, denim jacket and surgical masks, walked right here from his condominium 10 minutes away. A retired lodge shuttle bus driver, he comes 5 days every week for lunch. 

Does he have a favourite dish? “I’m not a choosy eater,” he says, “so long as it’s wholesome meals.” He provides: “The service right here is sweet.” 

How this meal occurred is a component logistical acrobatics, half every day miracle – with some assist from know-how. 

Orchestrated by an NGO aptly named Meals Angel, it includes a military of meals collectors fanning out to markets, eating places, accommodations and groceries throughout Hong Kong to choose up surplus meals that might in any other case be thrown away as a result of it’s a little bit wilted or bruised or just uneaten. They gather 45 metric tons every week; greater than half from ParknShop, a grocery chain owned by listed conglomerate CK Hutchison Group. Different donors embrace airline Cathay Pacific and luxurious lodge The Peninsula Hong Kong. 

People handle vegetables in a market.
Yau Mo Chun, a meals collector for Meals Angel, receives donations of greens and fruits at a moist market in Hong Kong. Photograph by Billy H.C. Kwok for Microsoft.

Racing towards time – and expiration dates – Meals Angel turns this rescued bounty into 20,000 scorching and chilled meals every day and helps ship 11,000 different meals and meals packs by a community of charities and merchandising machines, in addition to house supply to a few of Hong Kong’s poorest neighborhoods. 

Principally, we rescue meals which remains to be edible, following strict meals security protocol, and flip them into meals for the needy group freed from cost,” stated Zoe Lee, Meals Angel’s Chief Technique Officer. Just lately, the NGO’s work has been pushed by know-how together with Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Area Service and Enterprise Central software program and Energy Apps, hosted on Azure. 

Hong Kong is a monetary hub and culinary capital. It’s additionally a spot the place a major underclass – many aged – battle simply to place meals on the desk. Hong Kong tops the world in longevity, surpassing even Japan. 

The aged inhabitants reached 1.3 million in 2020, accounting for one-fifth of the overall inhabitants, in accordance with the Hong Kong Poverty Scenario Report revealed by the federal government. 45 % of the aged – or 583,600 – had been recognized as poor earlier than any authorities help. 

As one of many world’s most densely populated cities, Hong Kong additionally has a large waste downside: its three working landfills are near full. Hong Kong’s Environmental Safety Division estimates that 30% of the ten,809 metric tons of municipal waste dumped into landfills every day comes from meals. For the previous few years, the federal government has been actively selling meals donation, recycling and composting. 

All these elements make the case for meals rescue right here notably compelling. 

Meals Angel was launched in 2011 by Bo Charity Basis, an NGO based by Gigi Tung, a former kids’s gymnasium entrepreneur. Years in the past, Tung witnessed a standard road scene that for her threw in sharp aid Hong Kong’s wealth hole. 

“In an space with luxurious shops, I noticed a granny battle to push a cart piled with cardboard up a slope,” she advised an interviewer on Hong Kong Cable TV in 2012. “This confirmed the inequality of society. I considered methods I may assist her. Probably the most direct one was to supply her with meals.”  

Tung coined the slogan “Waste Not, Starvation Not, With Love.” When the pandemic hit, waste and starvation each shot up, and extra individuals wanted Meals Angel’s model of affection. 

At the moment, the group produces double the variety of scorching and chilled meals – 20,000 a day – as earlier than the pandemic.  

People unpack boxes of potatoes and carrots in a kitchen.
Meals Angel volunteers unpack rescued greens. Photograph by Billy H.C. Kwok for Microsoft.

As Meals Angel grew, so did the complexity of its work. Up till two years in the past, it relied on a hodgepodge of cellular messaging, pen on paper and a number of spreadsheets to function. 

It was messy. There was no technique to know what or how a lot had been collected till drivers arrived again on the warehouse after their rounds. Meals collectors and drivers typically missed one another by minutes at assortment factors, with nobody the wiser till hours later.  

Two years in the past, as demand for companies jumped, Meals Angel started working with a tech marketing consultant to determine a greater approach. “Meals Angel’s operation is kind of distinctive,” stated Kenny Zee, the NGO’s head of IT. “We couldn’t discover any ready-made system that fulfilled our enterprise necessities.”  

The group ended up customizing an answer utilizing Microsoft know-how. Dynamics 365 Area Service is used to handle logistics and is built-in into an app the group constructed utilizing Energy Apps, a Microsoft instrument that permits individuals with out in depth coding information to create their very own apps. Drivers now are assigned routes through a cellular app, which incorporates info comparable to what dimension automobile can squeeze into a group spot and whether or not there’s a ramp obtainable. Drivers faucet in what they’ve picked up and the way a lot at every assortment level.  

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