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Ho Chi Minh City’s Free Meal Haven for the Less Fortunate

A Compassionate Culinary Haven: The Free Kitchen in Bình Thạnh District, Ho Chi Minh City

For over two years, a ‘Zero-Dong Kitchen’ in Bình Thạnh District, Ho Chi Minh City, has been a beacon of hope, serving tens of thousands of free meals to struggling workers.

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The kitchen, covering around 150 square meters, boasts a clean and airy space, with separate areas for cooking, dining, and cleaning. Upon our visit, we saw ready meals of rice, soup, and side dishes awaiting locals. Patrons serve themselves, taking as much as they need.

A Zero-Dong Kitchen

Đặng Hoàng Nguyên, Chairman of the Sen Việt Red Cross Society in Bình Thạnh District, which established the kitchen, shared that six free kitchens were initially set up during the COVID-19 pandemic. After the pandemic, the economic hardship of many led to the continuation of one facility. “The kitchen is cleaned and maintained daily to ensure comfort for all. Patrons say the food is not only delicious but also feels homely. I am happy to hear this, as it shows that despite being free, the kitchen is well-received,” Mr. Nguyên said.

Mr. Nguyên often tells patrons, “Remember to come and eat, and I’ll give you a calendar for the New Year,” bringing smiles to many.

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The kitchen’s cheerful atmosphere

Previously serving vegetarian meals, the kitchen now alternates with non-vegetarian options to cater to diverse tastes. The menu changes daily, funded by Mr. Nguyên’s family, close friends, and generous donors. The staff, members of the Red Cross Society, along with other volunteers, serve about 70-100 meals per day.

Community Contributions of Rice and Vegetables

Nguyễn Thị Tâm, a 51-year-old street vendor from Quảng Ngãi, relies on the kitchen for her daily meal. “I haven’t eaten all morning, so I’m very hungry by lunch. Whenever I earn a bit more, I contribute to the charity box. I’m so grateful to everyone at the kitchen,” Ms. Tâm expressed.

Thanh Thúy, the kitchen’s head chef, shops for ingredients and prepares meals daily. She has been with the kitchen since its inception. “Seeing people in such dire circumstances motivates us to serve quickly and efficiently. I work from morning till night, but hearing compliments warms my heart,” Ms. Thúy shared.

She is moved to see people bringing bags of rice and bundles of garden vegetables to support the kitchen. Local vendors, aware of the kitchen’s mission, often offer discounts. “Many people skip breakfast to wait for our free lunch. I hope this kitchen can continue to support the needy and the elderly in the long run,” she added.

Lê Công Toại from the local People’s Committee also collects meals for solitary elders in the neighborhood. “This free kitchen is very meaningful. We often spread the word so more people can benefit from these free lunches,” Mr. Toại remarked.

(Source: Thanh Niên Newspaper)

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