HCM CITY It’s not uncommon to see random acts of kindness in HCM City. Over the past three weeks of social distancing, when many people have lost their jobs, food and necessities have been seen placed outside houses in the southern city left for those less fortunate to pick up for free.
Rice is being distributed through vending machines installed across the city, and on social media, people are encouraging each other not to look away if they see someone in need on the street.
One of the latest initiatives to help people in difficult situations is a supermarket where people can 'shop' free.
Vĩnh Nghiêm Pagoda in District 3 is one of the venues where such a supermarket has opened.
Dubbed “The VNĐ0 Happy Supermarket”, the establishment opens from 8.30am to 4.30pm every day, with a two-hour lunch break from 11.30am to 1.30pm.
A local corporation came up with the idea after business was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The economy has been hit hard by the pandemic. Our company’s revenue has also dropped,” said Nguyễn Thị Hương, a representative from APEC Group.
“Life is definitely difficult, but we realise there are locals who are struggling more than us because they have lost their main sources of income and don’t have any savings,” she added. “Some cannot even pay for daily expenses."
“Although we are struggling, we have to help people who are in a worse position than us. That's why we came up with the idea for a ‘happy supermarket’.
“We are not just giving away free goods, we are treating them like customers. They get to visit a supermarket and do their shopping, and we serve them like customers.”
|Daily essentials are available at the supermarket. VNS Photo Dũng Nguyễn
A few dozen locals visit the supermarket every day.
They are mostly low-income earners who have lost their jobs or those who are unable to work but still have families to care for.
Shoppers are seated on plastic chairs that are carefully separated in the yard, all wearing masks and waiting for their turns to go in and pick up their groceries.
Each of them is allowed to purchase goods twice a month with a budget of VNĐ100,000 (US$4.3) each for essential items.
|Locals wait for their turns to enter the supermarket. VNS Photo Bảo Hoa
At the entrance to the supermarket is a banner that reads: “If you are struggling, take what you need. If you are well-off, please leave these goods for people who are struggling.”
Volunteers are on hand to provide assistance and help customers select what they need.
Lê Thị Bé, an 80-year-old mother from District 3, said: “I’m here to get rice, a bottle of fish sauce, 10 eggs, and a bag of sugar.
“I’m very thankful to the staff here. I have three children who are unemployed and unable to make money, and I am taking care of them.”
|A volunteer helps a young mother pick up her groceries. VNS Photo Bảo Hoa
Thạch Sơ Minh from District 3 was shopping for her mother-in-law.
She used to work as a domestic helper, but lost her job when social distancing was enforced.
“Poor people, the unemployed, and the elderly can benefit from this place,” she said. “I’m very happy because it is helping us overcome this difficult time.”
|A volunteer helps a customer list the items she needs. VNS Photo Bảo Hoa
Eighteen zero-priced stores are currently operating across the country.
Businesses, donors and volunteers are collaborating with the organisers to provide donations, groceries and support to maintain the initiative.
“Apart from the elderly, disabled and people who are under medical care, we are also helping the unemployed,” said Nguyễn Thị Hương from APEC Group.
“These people need long-term support, so with what we are capable of and the community’s help, we would like to be able to keep these ‘VNĐ0 Happiness Supermarkets’ open for a long time.”
She added: “We want to spread the message ‘happiness is sharing’.
“Well-off people should try to help out disadvantaged people to create a united community that cares for one another.”
Social restrictions have been eased in HCM City from yesterday.
But small gestures of compassion like this supermarket will surely go a long way. VNS