Gu Yixia, a native of Anhui Province, used gritty determination to overcome crises in life and catapult herself to a new pinnacle with the creation of her own charity in Shanghai.
The 46-year-old founded the nonprofit Leshanyuan Service Center to provide meals for senior citizens and host special events like birthday parties and community performances.
Acknowledging her contribution, the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau cited Gu’s charity as among the top 10 in the city.
“After all these years, I’ve finally found something that I truly wish to devote myself to,” says Gu. “People often say that I am as energetic as a morning rooster every day. That’s because I am excited about my work.”
Years earlier, Gu was a factory worker at a chemical fiber plant in the Anhui city of Tongling but was laid off because of reforms in the state-owned enterprise.
“At that time, my daughter was little and I needed work to support the family. I couldn’t just be a stay-at-home mom,” she says.
So she turned to her love of cooking and opened a small snack bar in Tongling. Over the next 14 years she expanded, eventually opening 12 restaurants – each one more upscale than the last. By the time she moved to Shanghai in 2011, three of the restaurants were still operating.
She came to Shanghai to take care of her daughter, who was studying at a high school here. But Gu didn’t realize that leaving her hometown would mark such a sharp turning point in her life.
“Not long after I arrived, a friend of mine from Anhui invited me to a dinner party, where one of the guests mentioned that he was looking for someone to take over his restaurant,” Gu says. “So why not me?”
She took over the Tianruixuan restaurant in Jiading District after selling her three restaurants in Tongling and investing nearly all the proceeds in the three-story eatery.
In 2015, Gu read a newspaper story about the lack of facilities providing meals for the elderly.
“Many of the seniors are too old to buy groceries or cook themselves,” she says. “The local neighborhood committee in my area was stumped about what to do.”
So Gu decided to provide meals to seniors. She redecorated the first floor of Tianruixuan and turned it into an affordable cafeteria that promised 1 yuan (15 US cents) of every meal sold there would go toward subsidizing the meal delivery service.
“It was not easy to persuade my chefs to cook ordinary meals rather than banquet dishes,” Gu says. “Some of them left, but the vacancies were soon filled. I recall one chef from a luxury hotel who quit his job to come work for me when he learned about the senior meals project.”
Gu also organized parties to give lonely elderly the chance to get out and socialize a bit.