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June 6, 2017

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Home » City specials » Hangzhou

Nutritious, affordable meals for the elderly

CHEN Yuanyu, 90, totters into Xiaolewei Cafeteria and, hands shaking, takes a tray. He walks slowly along the counter, peering at the offerings through thick glasses. He selects two dishes and a bowl of rice. With a waiter’s help, he sits down at a table.

This is Chen’s daily routine every lunch and dinner time. He is one of a group of senior citizens living in the Xiaoying Community in downtown Hangzhou who depend on low-cost meals.

“I am too old and weak to cook,” said Chen, who lives alone. “The cafeteria is a godsend for me.”

Xiaolewei Cafeteria was established especially to cater to those 70 years and older. The menu features soft-texture dishes that are light on sugar and oil. A one-meat, one-vegetable combination dish costs around 10 yuan (US$1.47).

In Hangzhou there are 1,011 sites like the Xiaolewei Cafeteria. They are run by private companies, but usually local communities provide the space and kitchen equipment. The companies are exempt from tax.

Such sites are considered a vital part of the municipal government’s policy of caring for the city’s 1.6 million residents who are 60 years or older.

The Hangzhou Civil Affairs Bureau last week issued a guidance paper stating that every community in the city, both urban and suburban, will be equipped with at least one site offering low-cost, nutritious meals to the elderly by the end of this year.

That site may be a cafeteria like Xiaolewei. Or it may be a central kitchen preparing meals for delivery, like the two run by Runwanjia Catering Co, which show up on doorsteps with 800 lunches and dinners for residents in 12 communities every day.

Even qualified restaurants can participate with call-and-delivery services for the elderly.

All the food must meet health, safety and price standards set by the Civil Affairs Bureau.

“We are encouraging more catering companies to join us in this project,” said Wu Qiang, an officer of the bureau. “We provide subsidies as an incentive.”

Indeed, how can a business make a profit by selling low-cost meals?

Baisui Group, which owns several agricultural companies and restaurants, started running three senior citizen restaurants in the city last year.

“We haven’t made any money yet,” said Xie Xiayang, the manager of the Baisui Cafeteria in the Nanxing Community, “even though we are purchasing ingredients from our own company.”

The cafeteria employs five workers. A one-meat, two-vegetable set of relatively small portions costs only 6 yuan.

Baisui said it intends to have 10 cafeterias and take-out restaurants running in the near future.

“We hope to lower costs by enlarging the scale,” said Xie. “A central kitchen will make semi-finished dishes and deliver them to our restaurants.”

The group is also working on a smartphone app so that young people can order meals for their elderly parents or grandparents.

The Xiaolewei franchise of six branches was started by founder Tang Yansheng, who also operates a successful seafood restaurant.

He opens a cafeteria to the elderly from 10:30am to noon and from 4:30-to 6pm. In other hours, the site is open to the general public. The elderly get a 17 percent discount.

“The cafeterias are for public welfare, but we have to have a sustainable model,” said Tang, adding that two new sites will open soon.

The aging society is a key social problem of China. The ratio of people 60 years and older now accounts for more than 15 percent of the nation’s population. In Hangzhou, the figure is 21 percent.

On other fronts, the city is also drawing up an insurance system to benefit the aged, adding beds to nursing homes and building more elderly care centers in communities.


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