Volunteers serve food and drinks for people in need.
HCM CITY — It is 12:30pm on Sunday afternoon in mid-August. Lê Thị Kim Linh, 45, is waiting in line to get lunch at Chợ Rẫy Hospital’s kitchen which serves free meals for patients’ families, many of whom live outside HCM City.
Linh has been staying round-the-clock at the hospital to take care of her mother, 87, who has been hospitalised for treatment of pneumonia for nearly one month.
“I had bread and a vegetarian curry this morning. Now I am waiting to get food and dessert for lunch," Linh said.
“Every day I come down here three or four times to take away meals. The first meal is served at 5am and the last at 4pm.
“It saves me a lot of money for three meals and drinks every day. The food is hot and clean and it tastes more delicious than what I bought at food stalls near the hospital,” she said.
People in line receive a free meal at Chợ Rẫy Hospital’s bếp yêu thương (beloved kitchen). Photo courtesy of Chợ Rẫy Hospital
"In the first three days I stayed here, I didn’t notice the free food service and had to stop at food stalls near the hospital to eat. It was around VNĐ25,000-30,000 (US$1-1.2) for a meal without any drink or dessert," she said. "I had to eat instant noodles frequently or buy one meal for the entire day to save money."
"Then through a man who had been staying at the hospital for several months to take care of his wife, I came to know about the kitchen. Now I am not worried about having insufficient food due to lack of money.
“I really appreciate the charity organisations and restaurants that serve me good food, which makes me feel that there is always someone who cares about my tough situation," she said.
Daily meals are also a financial burden for the family of Huỳnh Thị Huề, 57, from Trà Vinh Province, whose husband has stomach cancer.
Huề and her son have been staying at the hospital since July when her husband was transferred to Chợ Rẫy Hospital from a local hospital.
People receive a free lunch at Chợ Rẫy Hospital’s bếp yêu thương (beloved kitchen). VNS Photos Thu Hằng
"We do not dare to eat well as food is so expensive in the city. Every day, my son and I spend more than VNĐ200,000 ($8.6) for food and drinks. We live in a rural area where we earn only VNĐ120,000 ($5) per day for manual work.
“Although meals are served for free, food providers and volunteers are very kind and empathetic,” she said.
Hạnh Dung restaurant in HCM City’s District 11 is one of the restaurants partnering with the hospital to prepare healthy meals for people in need.
For years, Nguyễn Thị Xuân Lan, a manager at the restaurant, has spent every Sunday afternoon at the hospital to serve meals for the disadvantaged.
“I am at the hospital at noon every Sunday before a total of 500 meals are transported from the restaurant to the hospital at 1pm to serve those in need here.
“We purchase raw materials on Saturday and cook food on Sunday morning. I and other staff at the restaurant are willing to do this meaningful charity work in hopes of doing something for people in need, especially poor patients who have serious illnesses.”
Different dishes are prepared and served every week, including vegetarian food and rice, mì xào (fried noodle), cháo thịt bằm (minced meat porridge), and nui (noodle soup).
“We hope that our good meals will help them get through the day and have the strength to fight and move forward,” Lan said, smiling.
For years, Nguyễn Thị Xuân Lan, a manager at Hạnh Dung restaurant, has spent every Sunday afternoon at the hospital to serve meals for disadvantaged people.
The 'kitchen' is called bếp yêu thương (beloved kitchen).
Since 2009, the hospital has partnered with a charity organisation to serve free meals for relatives of patients at the hospital, with 1,500 meals a day served at 8am and 2pm, said Lê Minh Hiển, head of the hosptial’s social work office.
As the demand increased, they had to find more charity organisations and restaurants to partner to provide free meals.
Now, a total of 4,500 take-away meals are prepared every day for patients and their relatives who come from far-off places to the hospital for long treatments. Many of them are poor and socially disadvantaged.
Previously, there was no separate room or kitchen for preserving food and storing meal boxes. Meals were served in the back yard of the hospital.
"In June, we began to build a small room in the yard so that people have a better place to take and eat meals," Hiển said.
Patients and their families can receive free meals five times a day from Monday to Friday and two times a day on weekends.
“Meals are served all year round and are prepared and served by charity organisations, restaurants and volunteers,” he said.
The charity kitchen has helped ease the burden of poor patients and their families, offering them great relief, Hiển said. — VNS