Build A Zero Hunger Network to Create Job Opportunity
The Food Bank has become famous in Taiwan recently. The operating model is to collect food and supplies from farms, food suppliers, supermarkets, or individuals and then distribute them to families in need. The donors can save taxes or destruction costs, while the recipients can receive real help and ultimately reach the goals of food support, poverty relief, reducing food waste, and building a zero-hunger network.
Provide Cooked Meals in Boxes to Meet the Recipients' Needs
Erlin Food Bank was established late than other food banks in Taiwan. However, since it built a unique service model "focusing on the needs of the recipient families" in the beginning, it has grown faster and plans to become a social enterprise in the coming three years.
When visiting Erlin Food Bank, you can see how busy the staff is. They collect and count the food and supplies, cook those foods as meal boxes, and then deliver those meal boxes to the points named "Food Refrigerator" to provide for lower-income and marginalized families. Since the supporting families need daily commodities as well, Erlin Food Bank expands the variety of supplies to accept both "food and commodities" donations. By September 2022, the Food Bank had donated an average of 10,000 kg of food and supplies each month and regularly served 2,000 people.
The Chairman, Ms. Hong Yu-wen, who has 30 years of experience in social welfare, pointed out that Erlin Food Bank was established in December 2019 and officially registered in June 2020. During the six months between the establishment and the registration, she and her volunteers visited more than 370 lower-income and marginalized families and found the existing social relief system inadequate.
"Taiwan has twice regular food relief a year, once in the summer for the Yulan Festival and another in the winter before the Lunar Spring Festival. But these relief supplies are mostly uncooked rice, which does not meet the recipients' real needs." Ms. Hong said the typical situation is that many lower-income and marginalized families even don't have cooking utensils. Therefore, even though they receive several bags of rice, they cannot cook them until the rice expires, which becomes a waste.
The observation inspired Erlin Food Bank to address the needs of the recipients while distributing the food and supplies. "It is better to give cooked food or meal boxes than uncooked rice." Therefore, Erlin Food Bank started the cooked food service. The preparation for starting a cooked food service requires regular staff and volunteers, which also creates job opportunities.
Making Renewal Foods to Extend the Life of Foods
To achieve the goals of "building a zero-hunger network" and "establishing a social enterprise" more quickly, Erlin Food Bank adopted a multi-track approach. First, it seeks assistance from external resources such as the public sector, private enterprises, and civil society to build an organizational network. Secondly, it established the cooking workshop "Spread Love Shop." Next, it introduced an online management system to make the flow of materials transparent and to keep track of the storage location and expiration date.
"The biggest concern at the beginning was the lack of resources." Ms. Hong said that to develop the resources, the volunteers invited many related enterprises and broadcasted the information to farmers, temples, and civil societies in Changhua County through the people network. Months later, the food bank received regular food and supplies beyond their expectations. If they receive food, bread, or agri-products, they must cook them immediately to prolong the life of the foods and achieve the "renewal food" goal of "continuing the life and function of the foods".
Changhua Country is a major vegetable producer in Taiwan. Erlin Food Bank sometimes receives large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables, which can be spoiled if they were not made as renewal food or were distributed on that day. To face the sudden situation, the food bank cooperates with the temples, townships, and village offices around and establishes "Food Refrigerator" points to make the delivery system more intensive and flexible. It has established a total of 30 "Food Refrigerator" points in only two years, which is the highest density in the whole country. In addition, to care for the remote area, Erlin Food Bank provides a "Mobile Grocery Shop" service car, directly delivering
the food and supplies to recipients' houses.
"Spread Love Shop" Creates Employment Opportunities for Disadvantaged
The "Spread Love Shop," which Erlin Food Bank established, is responsible for cooking foods for recipients and making steam buns, dumplings, and red yeast longevity peach buns for sale to create operating funds.
"The expenses of the Food Bank are quite high. Just the cost of fuel for the service car and the electricity for cooking costs more than NT$40,000 a month. In order to achieve the sustainable business goal of self-help, mutual help, and no food waste, it is necessary to let Erlin Food Bank move forward as a self-sufficient social enterprise," said Ms. Hong.
To solve the issue, Erlin Food Bank participates in the Social Type Multi-Employment Promotion Program (MEPP) of the Ministry of Labor, trying to create job opportunities while doing social welfare. According to the regulations of the Ministry of Labor, the government provided salary subsidies for one project manager and four project staff to cover the labor costs of the initial start-up period of "Spread Love Shop." With the addition of 15 regular volunteers and 80 registered volunteers, the shop soon began to operate smoothly.
The "Multi-Employment Promotion Program of the Ministry of Labor helps us a lot, which supports the project staff of Spread Love Shop and makes for stable development." Ms. Hong has hired the project staff once a year according to the regulations so far. To reach the goal of empowering labor at the same time, the staff that Erlin Food Bank hired are all middle-aged women who mostly did not have career experience before. Now, those women staff not only have professional cooking skills but also passed the Level C Chinese Style Wheat Flour Processing Certificate, which raised their self-accomplishment. Now they are happy to say that they have been upgraded to "licensed" cooks. Since 2022, Spread Love Shop has received counseling on business products and marketing from the Workforce Development Agency, which empowered the shop to efficiently count the costs and develop standard operating procedures in the shape of a social enterprise.
Since most of the Food Bank's donors are food companies, the basic operating principle of the Shop is "Do not compete with the donors." Therefore, the staff has developed steam buns, dumplings, and longevity peach buns, which are rarely sold by
the local stores. The Shop's average sales can reach NT$60,000 in a month.
To raise its sales revenue, the volunteers actively network with the local temples in Changhua County. Soon, Spread Love Shop received regular orders for its longevity peach buns from the temples and became the regular offerings supplier to the local temples. Erlin Food Bank strictly follows the principle of never selling donated food and supplies, and the raw materials for the products are purchased by the Shop. Since the self-sufficient policy has been confirmed by the donors, it adds, "If there are too many foods donated and they can't be delivered before they expired, the Shop will sell them as renewal food."
Production Lines and Digitalization Toward Social Enterprise
Looking ahead, Erlin Food Bank will step into social enterprise and social service.
In terms of social enterprise, Erlin Food Bank will expand the production lines of Spread Love Shop. It has secured equipment funding from Lion Clubs International and E. Sun Bank, and it is looking for a new site. The staff hopes to reach the scale of a food factory and become a social enterprise within three years.
In terms of social service. The Food Bank receives a wide variety of items, especially fresh and cooked foods. The distribution process needs to be efficient in terms of expiration and storage conditions. In 2021, Erlin Food Bank cooperated with Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) to develop "geoBingAn" app, which is an online food and supply delivery and request system linked with LINE functions. The app allows volunteers and managers to keep track of the donated food and supplies, inventory numbers, and the food's freshness in time.
"The volunteers can upload the pictures of delivered food and supplies right away when visiting the recipient families to connect the donors and the needs." Ms. Hong said the "geoBingan" app reaches the Food Bank's goal of "focusing on the needs of the recipient families", allowing transparency of the donated food and supplies, and building public credibility. In particular, the Food Bank also operates the "Spread Love Shop," which provides detailed and transparent information to the donors.
Since the "geoBingAn" app runs well, Erlin Food Bank further cooperates with ITRI for a healthy protection program. The program invites professional general practitioners to remote communities to conduct health checks for the disadvantaged elderly, reducing the number of elderly people delaying medical treatment.
Erlin Food Bank has received support, funds, workforces, supplies, and ideas in just three years of its establishment. It helps not only the marginalized families around Erlin Township of Changhua County; the dumplings that the volunteers made have often been delivered to Keelung, Taipei City, New Taipei City, Hsinchu, Nantou, Yunlin, Kaohsiung, Pingtung, Taitung, Hualien, Yilan, etc. Finding out the social needs and then building a suitable business model is the key to realizing the dream of a social organization.
Erlin Food Bank well utilizes digital tools and the government's resources as a good reference for all social entrepreneurs.
▲The dedicated volunteers of Erlin Food Bank are a great motivation for the organization to move forward as a social enterprise
▲Spread Love Shop, which Erlin Food Bank established, is responsible for cooking the meals for the recipients and making the red yeast longevity peach buns for sale to create operating funds
▲By September 2022, the "Food Refrigerator" points of Erlin Food Bank had developed to 30 points
Case Story: Multi-Employment Promotion Program
Interviewee: Changhua County Erlin Food Bank