City seniors dine together in style they can afford

Specialized canteens catering for the elderly population are opening up across the city, in an attempt to alleviate the loneliness which afflicts many in their later years.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Zhuang Yunhai (left), the boss of Yinfu Kitchen, a government-subsidized seniors’ canteen at the Yinhang community in Yangpu District, is happy to serve as a cashier at the canteen to save on labor costs.

Specialized canteens catering for the growing elderly population are opening up across the city, with low prices and a pleasant environment in an attempt to alleviate the loneliness which afflicts many in their later years.

Some 90 percent of local seniors are taken care of at home. The traditional virtue of filial piety means children are reluctant to put frail elderly parents in nursing homes. Dining has become a major difficulty, especially for those seniors living alone, or whose families are off at work all day.

The daughter of Tang Xiulan, an 83-year-old retiree in Shiguang No.2 community in Yangpu, used to drive across town for an hour, twice a day, to take her mother cooked meals.

Her daughter's daily pilgrimage ended last month, when Tang began eating at Yinfu Kitchen, a government-subsidized seniors’ canteen at the nearby Yinhang community.

“The canteen provides affordable, healthy meals which have made things easier for my daughter as well as relieving my loneliness,” said Tang.

With subsidies from the government, a meat dish at the canteen such as a pork chop costs 4.5 yuan (66 US cents), while a dish of vegetables costs 1.5 yuan, far cheaper than any nearby restaurants.

Around 60 of these canteens have been opened in Yangpu District, catering for over 3,000 elderly citizens. More than 84 percent of them are over 70 years old living alone or with chronic diseases. The canteens also offer meal deliveries for an additional one yuan.

Citywide, over 500 seniors’ canteens are scattered around major residential communities, with another 70 to open by the end of the year, according to the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau.

It is part of the city’s efforts to improve community care services for all senior residents. Companion daycare centers, with activity rooms and medical services, are also planned.

The number of city residents aged 60 or older reached 4.8 million at the end of 2017 and is expected to climb to 5.3 million by 2020. Seniors already account for more than a third of the city’s permanent residents.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A customer examines the dishes on offer at Yinfu Kitchen, making sure she gets exactly what she wants.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A meat dish at Yinfu Kitchen sells for 4.5 yuan, while a dish of vegetables costs 1.5 yuan. It is easy to see why seniors prefer to eat here rather in other, much pricier, locations nearby.

He's lovin' it

Yinfu Kitchen was opened with assistance from both Yangpu District and Yinhang subdistrict in 2008. It is run by Zhuang Yunhai, a successful businessman who previously managed a popular restaurant on Jungong Road in Yangpu.

Comparing with his previous lucrative endeavour, he hardly makes ends meet due to the low prices, but the 64-year-old Zhuang is more fulfilled than ever before.

“Without a loving heart, no one could stick to a business which involves a lot of hardships and very little profit,” Zhuang said. His two predecessors quit the business within a year.

Zhang Xingen, 85, is Zhuang's most loyal customer. He has been dining at the canteen since 2008 when his wife passed away. The former technician at a Shanghai diesel engine plant can hardly see now.

He arrives at the canteen at 10am every day, listens to the orders of other customers to learn the menu of the day and then orders his own. He sits on a special spot near the counter where canteen staff bring him his meal.

“The price of the dishes has not increased in ten years,” Zhang said. He has made many new friends at the canteen, who eat with him and chat.

On weekends, his son and daughter come to visit him along with his grandchildren. Zhang often takes them to the canteen to sample his daily “cheap and cheerful” feast.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A Yinfu Kitchen deliveryman takes meal to the elderly in their own home for a surcharge of just one yuan

Every penny counts

To keep prices low, Zhuang drives to a wholesale market in neighboring Baoshan District at 5am every day where the products are fresh but prices are lower than other downtown wet markets. He also serves as the cashier at the restaurant to save the labor costs.

The canteen has 22 staff members, including cooks and deliverymen. Another two branches have been opened, mainly for delivery services. The three sites sell about 700 meals on the premises plus another 300 meals each day.

During peak hours, his son and his wife often come to help out.

“I determined to spend every penny of the government subsidies properly and never make a profit from my customers,” he said.

Downtown district governments have also begun cooperating with restaurants to serve meals for elderly residents.

Huangpu District has invited the city’s time-honored eatery brands, the Guang Ming Cun and Xiao Shaoxing restaurants, famous for local specialities like pork meat mooncake and plain chicken, to deliver meals to seniors across Huangpu.

Over 5,000 seniors have registered for the service. The district government has invested over 6 million yuan to monitor the cooking process and ensure food safety.

In the Yangjing community in Pudong New Area with over 29,000 elderly residents, campaign is underway to increase choice and improve quality of its seven canteens.

“Today, most seniors care more about the flavor and quality of their meals than the price,” said Lu Xiaofeng, the official in charge of the canteens.

The canteens also open to nearby office workers and other residents to ensure profitable operations, but seniors aged over 85 enjoy a 15 percent discount.

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