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Woman's 'zero dong supermarket' a lifesaver for some in Mekong Delta

By Diep Phan   June 23, 2021 | 03:15 am PT
Duong Thanh Ha of Mekong Delta's Can Tho City has set up a charity stall with vegetables and foods to help people facing economic hardships due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

For nearly a month now she and her husband have been waking up before dawn to pick vegetables in their garden and take them to her ‘zero dong supermarket’ behind Phuoc Long Pagoda in Le Binh Ward, Cai Rang District.

It is actually a small stall with many varieties of farm produce that Ha harvests or others donate.

While she was busy stacking the items on the shelves, some traders from nearby wet markets stopped by to donate vegetables.

From time to time people would drive up, and place bags of rice, instant noodles, sugar, or cooking oil in gaps in the shelves and quickly leave.

Scrap collectors, lottery ticket sellers and motorbike taxi drivers show up now and then to grab for some supply. Seeing a timid old woman selling lottery tickets taking only a handful of vegetables, Ha said kindly: "Please take more. You are [also] welcome to come back and take more if you want."

Duong Thanh Has zero supermarket offers a wide variety of farm-produce for people to chose from. Photo by VnExpress/Dien Phan.

Duong Thanh Ha's ‘zero dong supermarket’ has a variety of farm produce for people to choose from and take for free. Photo by VnExpress/Dien Phan.

Ha, 60, used to be a merchant, but retired two years ago and handed the family business to her children.

In late May, when many farmers growing sweet potato in the neighboring province of Vinh Long could not sell their harvest due to the Covid outbreak, they offered to give it to Ha so that she could distribute it to those in need.

She rented a vehicle for a few days to transport the sweet potato from Vinh Long to Can Tho, and many people who had received it from her said: "We are very grateful... Having them for breakfast and lunch helped us save some money to pay our rent."

Ha realized then that many poor workers were feeling the economic pinch caused by the pandemic. They were hoping to eat reasonably well, but were helpless as their incomes fell or disappeared, and that was when she decided to open the ‘supermarket.’

At first she only put up vegetables and fruits from her garden, but within a few days, as word spread about her charity effort, many people began to bring in food while others living far away contributed money for her to buy more vegetables.

She also uses some of her own money to stock the stall.

"At first I could only help with things I had. But thanks to benefactors from far and near, I have been able to maintain this for nearly a month now."

In the beginning she would occasionally ask her adopted daughter to watch over the stall. But this made people afraid to come in since they could not see anyone inside. Since then Ha is inside almost all day until 6 p.m, only going for a short break at noon.

Besides picking vegetables and stacking the shelves, she also spends time talking to people who come in to assuage their embarrassment at taking things for free.

Southern womans zero supermarket spark joys in Can Tho - 1

Ha with a basket of squash at her ‘zero dong supermarket’in Cai Rang District, Can Tho City.Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Tram.

There are times when she sees people wearing gold jewelry and coming in luxury cars stop by her stall. She still welcomes them, helps them choose what they want but advises them to take only enough.

"If they have a need, I'm willing to share with them. It could be that they were not able to earn money that day."

Do Thi Phuong Dao, 44, who sells spring rolls nearby, said: "There was less and less stuff at Ha's stall after a few days. I thought the place would close down soon. But after a few days I saw many people bring food to donate, and so now every day hundreds of people come to take the goods. I have seen Ha choose fresh items to put on the shelf and take home less fresh ones to eat herself."

Ha said she is "so happy that I cannot sleep" at seeing so many people make donations.

"The community's cooperation has helped this stall survive for a long time," she said, adding that she has the same joy with those receiving free produce from the stall.

At around 6 p.m., knowing the stall was about to close, Chau Thi Chi, 67, who sells lottery tickets, hurriedly comes in to grab some broccoli to cook with pork she bought on the way home.

She said: "Before the epidemic I used to sell more than 200 tickets a day, but now I can only sell half even if I head out early and return home late. Everyone is feeling the economic crunch, so they rarely buy lottery tickets.

"I have been coming to this stall every day since it was first set up and could save the money needed to buy vegetables. The vegetables here are very fresh in the evening and there is a large variety to choose from."

 
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