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People's Daily Online>>China Society

An appetite for charity

By He Dan  (China Daily)

08:22, April 09, 2012

Students eat a free meal, including two eggs and a carton of milk, during a break at a primary school in Bozhou, Anhui province, last month. (Zhang Yanlin / for China Daily)

There was no free lunch on Sunday for the organizers of a children's charity to mark its first anniversary and the raising of 24 million yuan ($3.8 million).

The only thing they were given free was a humble potato, to remind them that it once was an entire meal for many rural school children.

"Our mission is not over if there are still students in China who can only eat a potato as their lunch," said Xiao Longjun, from the China Social Welfare Foundation.

Xiao was speaking at a news conference in Beijing by the Free Lunch for Children Project, set up by 500 journalists on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, last April, and affiliated to the foundation.

As a result of their efforts more than 16,600 students in 137 rural primary schools are now enjoying a free meal each day.

But following recent food safety and graft scandals over government-subsidized school meals, the organizers warned that transparency about how their funds are spent, and food quality, were the major concerns that needed to be addressed to maintain credibility with donors.

Schools sponsored by the project record on Sina Weibo the prices spent on food items each day, and the number of students who took school meals, said Phoenix Weekly journalist Deng Fei, one of the initiators of the project.

"We not only review the information that schools release online, but also do random telephone interviews with parents and local villagers to check whether schools forge the statistics," said Wei Chen, a volunteer who works for the project.

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