|People line up in front of Phong's rice stall to receive meals. — Photo suckhoedoisong.vn|
HCM CITY — It’s 9.30am on Trần Bình Trọng Street in HCM City and already a long line of people queue up in front of a rice stall waiting for meals.
Located next to District 8 Rehabilitation Hospital, the stall is run by 27-year-old Lê Văn Phong who cooks and offers free rice or sells at a low price to migrant workers and patients.
Phong said he runs the rice stall not for his own benefit but to make sure the disadvantaged have more nutritious meals.
“It’s also a way to honour those who have died from COVID-19,” he said.
When he was a student, he and his friend often had meals at a vegetarian restaurant on Trần Nhân Tôn Street in District 10.
He remembered back then each plate of rice cost only VNĐ7,000 which was a great help for him as he struggled for cash as a student.
Phong said: “I used to experience hardship during my student life so I understand the importance of saving money.”
During the pandemic, Phong and his friends cooked hundreds of meals each day to deliver to homeless people.
“On some days, we cooked 1,000 meals," he told Sức Khỏe&Đời Sống (Health and Life) newspaper.
"We also provided medicine and breathing equipment to hundreds of COVID-19 patients and offered funeral support for those who have lost people to the virus.”
Students and patients can come to Phong’s stall to get free rice. He also sells meals to migrant workers for just VNĐ10,000.
Although it was never his intention to make a profit, some days he even loses money.
“Each day we need to collect VNĐ2 million, which is just enough to buy pork,” he said.
Phong is lucky to be supported by his friends who stay at the stall to cook from early morning and clean up until midnight.
They are of different ages and do various jobs but share the same sympathy for the disadvantaged.
Phong said: “We cook 600 sets of meals and 400 sets of noodles per day but it is still not enough to serve all the customers. A lot of people come to buy and we often sell out in one or two hours.”
Before running the stall, Phong and his friends often visited places where the poor and the homeless lived to deliver free meals.
“Then we came up with the idea of running a stall to welcome them to receive meals every day,” Phong said.
A lot of kind-hearted people have donated rice and other ingredients to help Phong maintain the stall.
He said: “It was difficult to open the rice stall at first and it’s more difficult now to maintain it. But we will try our best to deliver delicious meals to migrants and patients.
“We want to run it for a long time, not a spontaneously-opened model and then closed after a short time.” — VNS