The story of China’s first food bank

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Editor’s Note

This is a summary of a report published by the 世界说 WeChat account on the 12th of June 2020. See here for the original.


China’s first food bank, the “Oasis Charity” (绿洲公益), was founded seven years ago by Li Bing, a retired worker. Its main purpose is to deliver “excess” food to those who need it.

The food bank’s main activity, called “Love Food Pack” (爱心食物包), provides 120 yuan worth of food packs to families in need each month with their agreement. In addition to oil and rice, it also includes other food donated by various companies to help these families save money and use it for medical care.

As the only food bank in China certified by the World Food Bank, Oasis Charity has practiced a very straightforward idea for several years: let more food be eaten than wasted. The concept of food banking was born in the United States in the 1960s. The purpose was to collect “redundant” food and distribute it to those in need. The Global Food Banking Network, created in 2006, is an international alliance organisation that provides guidance and support to local practice.

The Oasis Food Bank is an attempt to localise this model for mainland China. At present it mainly accepts donations from enterprises, mostly of food that is close to its expiration date or has a defective appearance, and is difficult to sell at a good price. By the end of 2018, the Food Bank had distributed 462 tons of food that was about to be wasted and distributed it to 430,000 people.

Unfortunately most of the public does not understand the idea of almost-expired food (临期食物), and businesses that donate such food are fearful of facing public criticism. This has led some companies to suggest that anonymous donations would be preferable. They idea is that charity organisations could establish a center to repackage and de-brand the food, so people would no longer know what company it came from. Li Bing claims that, while he understands the concerns of the enterprises, this suggestion is not realistic for private charities with insufficient funds and manpower.