Big-hearted Saigonese show mettle amid Covid-19

By Diep Phan   April 4, 2020 | 01:59 am PT
As the novel coronavirus cripples city life, Saigonese are lending their fellow urbanites a hand.

At 9 a.m. on April 1, Nguyen Thi Thuy Trang, 35, owner of a vegetarian restaurant on District 10’s Ngo Quyen Street, prepared 50 food packages destined for the poor as well as lottery ticket vendors.

On March 24, Ho Chi Minh City requested all "non-essential" stores to shut down to contain the spreading novel coronavirus. Since April 1, all lotteries have also been suspended for 15 days as a precaution against the pandemic.

These decisions have posed numerous challenges to the poor as well as migrant workers, whose incomes have been severely affected since the outbreak hit Vietnam. Now, many earn next to nothing.

"Many lottery ticket vendors are jobless. I see their difficulties, and want to give them food. We have cooked to sell, it is not a big deal to cook some more," said Trang.

Apart from food and milk, people are given a bottle of donated hand sanitizer. Those without a mask are also generously supplied. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Apart from food and milk, people are given a bottle of donated hand sanitizer. Those without a mask are also generously supplied. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

She put a notice in front of the restaurant advertizing 50 portions per day, though many more people turned up. When her staff told her the food was done, she did her best to cook even more.

By 11:30 a.m., about 500 free portions of food had been distributed.

Trang is not alone. Many passers-by donated funds towards her efforts. Some humbly provided her with rice, water and soy sauce, disappearing before a fuss was made.

Dung Van Dat, 38, from southern Long An Province, bought 200 pieces of tofu and rode 50 kilometers to supply Trang.

"If everyone offers a little help, the lives of the poor would be less difficult during the epidemic," Dat said.

After lunch, Trang started preparing dinner at 2 p.m. Knowing it could be crowded and chaotic, she requested help from local authorities.

At dinner, people were told to stand two meters apart and use hand sanitizer before receiving food, placed on tables to minimize close contact.

"It is the first time I have used hand sanitizer," said Do Van Chung, 64, a scavenger.

Around 1,000 portions were given away. On the following day, Trang and her husband woke at 2 a.m. to prepare food and cook. Starting April 3, apart from lunch and dinner, over 100 breakfasts would be served. Trang’s restaurant will keep it up until April 15.

"The number of portions skyrocketed suddenly, so I did not have time to check the cost. With help, I will cook as much as I can," she declared.

Han and her family want to share the burdenfaced by many of the poor. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Han and her family want to share the burden faced by many of the poor. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

At 155 Hung Vuong Street in District 5, Vuong Nguyet Han and her niece Ngo Tran Thao Nguyen prepared rice, instant noodles, and masks to help their community.

"I have a little, so I help the miserable, without the need for explanation," Han, 46, said.

"If you experience difficulties, please take one. If you are okay, please leave it for others," a poster read, promoting 150 food sets available at 4 p.m. on March 31.

An hour later, the table was empty. With help from family and friends, the food sets increased to 200 the next morning.

"Many of my friends said they would bring rice cakes and hand sanitizer," Nguyen exclaimed.

With some chancers trying to scoop some food, Han decided to hand out each set herself.

Next door, Tran Tan Khoa, 24, learning of Han’s kindness, donated towards the purchase of 100 kilograms of rice.

"I am also a worker. I saw the notice to suspend lotteries several days ago and I have not helped them, now I would like to help those in need," said Khoa, employed at the lottery store next to Han’s house.

Nu Cuoi (Smile) restaurant chain started handing out free food to the poor after the city requested establishments serve less than 30 customers at once to avoid cross-infection. Volunteers now deliver food to both hospitals and areas frequented by the needy.

On April 2, at Nu Cuoi 7 restaurant, managed by 67-year-old Minh Nghia, 200 meals were given away.

"Even it is free, the quality remains the same, all meals are served with meat," Nghia maintained.

Vietnam declared Covid-19 a national epidemic Wednesday afternoon. The country has recorded 239 Covid-19 cases so far.

To date, the Covid-19 pandemic has claimed almost 59,200 lives as it spread to 205 countries and territories.

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