At noontime, Jin Yujie got dressed and headed to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) office in Beijing. The 81-year-old was not going there on official business but rather for lunch.
Jin has been the most regular customer of SARFT’s No 302 dining hall since the administration became the country's first ministerial-level office to open its cafeteria to the community.
"I don't cook very often because it's boring to make food and chow it down alone," she said. "I can buy a cheap meal at the dining hall, eat half of it for lunch and take the rest home for supper."
Jin has lived alone since her husband passed away two years ago. She has since spent most of the time by herself because her only daughter rarely visits.
The Yuetan subdistrict office has urged neighboring ministries to open their canteen doors to empty nesters like Jin.
SARFT opened its cafeteria to the 21 neighboring communities in June 2009, providing cheap food and takeaway at lunchtime from Monday to Friday. The National Development and Reform Commission also opened its dining hall last year.
"We are working to let the public share more central government departments' resources to support the elderly," said Wang Yong, deputy director of the Yuetan subdistrict office of Xicheng district.
The subdistrict has been facing pressure to meet the needs of its aging residents. People older than 60 account for 23 percent of the subdistrict's nearly 140,000 residents, the Beijing News reported on Sunday.
Wang said some senior citizens in Xicheng are too old to shop for ingredients or to cook. And ordering takeout from restaurants every day is too expensive. Consequently, many of the elderly eat few fresh vegetables.
Fortunately for these residents, about a dozen ministries are located in the area.
A 2009 Ministry of Civil Affairs circular encouraged government organs to share resources with neighborhoods. So the Yuetan subdistrict office asked nearby ministries to open their dining halls to elderly residents.
It is now in talks with a dozen more ministries, including the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Railways, Wang said.
Head of SARFT's logistics and service bureau Liu Chengbin said: "The graying of the country's population has been creating a nationwide demand for more services for the elderly. I believe central government ministries should play a role."
However, he has voiced concerns about the cost of such programs as the dining hall services.
SARFT pays for food-delivery staffers, transfer trolleys, and water and electricity expenses, and sells meals at low prices.
"Without government subsidies, I'm afraid the service won't last long," Liu said.
But some experts, such as Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences professor Lu Hanlong, oppose subsidies.
"Some government departments provide very cheap food in their dining halls as a form of employee welfare," Lu said.
"If local governments allocate funds for these departments, we cannot tell if the money is used to provide affordable food for the public or for their own staff members."
Lu suggested local governments support nongovernmental organizations that provide low-cost meals for senior citizens.
Experts estimate 350 million of the country's 1.45 billion people will be older than 65 by 2050.
（中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑）
About the broadcaster:
Nelly Min is an editor at China Daily with more than 10 years of experience as a newspaper editor and photographer. She has worked at major newspapers in the U.S., including the Los Angeles Times and the Detroit Free Press. She is also fluent in Korean.