Free bites for the taking

Free bites for the taking

Two local restaurants have introduced a 'Chinese makeover' to a traditional charity concept from Italy to help the city's poorest


Free bites for the taking_L
Photos: Paul Yeung/SCMP
In the Italian city of Naples, people love their cups of coffee. Even the poorest can afford them. All they need to do is ask for a caffe sospeso, or "suspended coffee".

Coffee-lovers place a regular order and pay in advance for a second drink, which can be claimed by someone else who cannot afford it. These nameless acts of caffeine-rich kindness have a long tradition in the city.

Now, thanks to the power of online social networking, the idea is going global. Hundreds of coffee shops worldwide have embraced the concept of charity drinks. In April, two local eateries expanded the idea to include soup and buns.

Carrie Tang Ka-yi, co-founder of Go Inside cafe, introduced the idea to Hong Kong, giving it a Chinese makeover. The 24-year-old, who made headlines in 2011 for delivering homemade sweet soup to the homeless, encouraged her customers to donate not just coffee but also soup with bread.

That's because poor locals need more than just coffee. "Coffee is a Western, middle-class beverage," the cafe's investor Elaine Cheng Yee-man explains. "It's for people who can afford to sit back and enjoy life... But soup and bread is a staple."

In a twist on the Italian tradition, Go Inside, which is located in a Hung Hom shopping mall, offers food vouchers. Customers can give them out on their own or let the restaurant hand out free food on their behalf to the poor through charities like The Sharing Movement. The reason is that not many poor people may know of the charity initiative.

Since April, the cafe has sold about 800 bowls of "suspended" soup and 200 cups of coffee. Vouchers for a suspended coffee cost HK$10 and those for a soup cost HK$12 - just a third of the original price of the food.

Maia's Box Bakery in Mong Kok has also embraced the idea of suspended food charity. It offers HK$6 vouchers that can be used for red bean buns, cheese buns and raisin scones. Customers can stick the coupons on a board at the shop or hand them out to people who they think could use some help.

The bakery has sold about 600 coupons so far. The store's founder, Alex Chiu, says people who benefit most from the scheme are the elderly. "They always say 'Thank you' to show their appreciation," he notes.

Chiu admits that it can be hard to ensure the coupons always end up in the right hands. Like many forms of charity, the "suspended" scheme relies on people's honesty.

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