At Covid-19 epicenter, field kitchens cook up a storm

By Phan Duong   February 11, 2021 | 09:00 pm PT
In Hai Duong, field kitchen volunteers are up early, preparing thousands of meals for children and adults quarantined amid the latest Covid-19 outbreak.

The shopping and cooking had begun at 5 a.m. and at 10:30 a.m. last Saturday, Nguyen Thi Huyen and other volunteers from Chi Linh Town had delivered more than 140 boxes of chicken fried rice with beans and soup to the Le Loi primary and secondary schools where 140 primary school students are on quarantine.

Soon after lunch was delivered, the volunteers got busy again, making dinner.

The northern province of Hai Duong has become the epicenter of the latest Covid-19 outbreak in Vietnam, with 383 confirmed patients since January 28. Several areas are under a lockdown and social distancing is in force across the province.

The outbreak has disrupted Huyen's work, but she "does not have time to be sad," having immediately responded to the local authorities’ call to join volunteer groups.

"Our goal is to not let anyone lack basic necessities. We’ve set up a team to help do the things that need to be done right away," the 39-year-old woman said.

At first, her group called for donations of mosquito nets and bought orange juice and snacks for the children. However, realizing that kids need a nutritious, easy to eat diet, Huyen decided to set up a field kitchen.

Volunteers prepairing foods for children undergoing quaranine in Hai Duong Province. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thi Huyen.

Volunteers prepare food for children quarantined in Hai Duong Province. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thi Huyen.

The kitchen has been operating since February 3. Every day, the kitchen provides nearly 300 meals with each serving costing about VND15,000 ($0.66). All expenses are met with donations from sponsors, most of the money being spent on vegetables, fish sauce and rice are supported the most. The volunteers have been worried about funding to buy fish and meat.

Since the pandemic resurfaced in Hai Duong since January 28, Huyen's three children, studying in grades 1-9, have been staying with home with their grandmother, while she and her husband are volunteering from early morning until late at night. Her husband joins the team delivering Huyen's food for free.

"We’ve been really busy the past few days and I am very tired. But we are motivated to work even harder when we see the kids enjoying delicious meals," she said.

Phuong Dung and volunteers pose for picture next to the congee they made. Photo courtesy of Dung.

Phuong Dung (L) and volunteers pose for picture with cups of rice porridge. Photo courtesy of Dung.

About 30 km away, cooking at the Thai Hoc field kitchen begins at 2 a.m. to provide rice porridge by 7 a.m. for children and senior citizens in quarantine at the Sao Do University in Chi Linh Town.

The kitchen opened on January 29, the very next day after Hai Duong recorded its first Covid-19 case.

Phuong Dung, 32, said she goes to bed early in order to get up early. The field kitchen staff has eight members working in two cooking locations, providing about 300 servings of congee each day.

"We hope this hot congee will become a source of support for everyone," Dung said.

With support from people within and outside the province, the Women's Union of Cong Hoa Ward has set up a kitchen to provide 600 meals a day to different quarantine camps and guard posts.

Members of Womens Union of Cong Hoa Ward prepairing ingredients to cook 600 meals a day. Photo courtesy of Le Thi Tam.

Members of the Women's Union of Cong Hoa Ward prepare ingredients to cook 600 meals a day. Photo courtesy of Le Thi Tam.

Le Thi Tam, chairwoman of the union, said she was deeply moved by everyone's kindness. Even people in difficult circumstances were pitching in, bringing apples, grapefruit, eggs, cabbage and bottle of honey.

"People can donate as much as they want and can contribute labor and not just money. During the pandemic period, we want to spread as much love as we can," she said.

The union's field kitchen opened on February 2 with five volunteers and other women from 10 women's associations aking turns to help.

Feeding the volunteers

After watching too many volunteers eating just instant noodles and bread, Thanh Giang, a resident of Chi Linh, decided to set up a field kitchen to serve food for the volunteers.

On January 29, when many people had to enter quarantine camps and some locations were locked down, Giang was scrolling through social media and saw many people create posts "asking for helps". "My child needs a blanket in the quarantine camp, but we can't go anywhere due to lockdown measures where we live" or "I really need toilet paper."

So she decided to help and so did others. In a couple of days, they assembled into a team of volunteers doing all the things the people currently in quarantined and locked down areas needed help with.

"We also provide emergency relief and necessities or whatever people need," Giang said.

Amidst this work, she noticed that many volunteers have been eating mostly bread and instant noodles for several days while working from early morning until late in the night.

Giang said that her kitchen cooks and posts the information on Facebook so volunteers and others can stop by and pick up the food.

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