On a Sunday in September, at a house in alley No. 13 Minh Khai Street in Hai Ba Trung District, the fire was kindled in the kitchen of the “Hanoi 5,000-Dong Meal” club as usual.
Yet the commemoration of over 300 weeks of volunteer cooking was special with a small tea table and a birthday cake to celebrate the 10th anniversary, as well as a cozy, heart-touching reunion between the generations of volunteers who have been part of the club.
10 years - a heart-warming journey
|Members of the “Hanoi 5,000-Dong Meal” Club hand over free lunch to poor patients at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi. Photo: Hanoi 5,000-Dong Meal Club|
It was the first reunion between the generations of volunteers who have been with the “Hanoi 5,000-Dong Meal” club for different periods. Meeting again with Tran Le, owner of Hung Phuong Restaurant in Hoang Mai District, Bui Quang Long - the club founder and leader - was touched since Le had supported the club in the early days full of hardship.
As Long recalled, ten years ago, he harbored the intention of gathering young people to prepare budget meals - at only VND5,000 per ration but still nutritious enough - to help needy people.
In August 2012, during a volunteer project, Long’s group went to Tran Le’s restaurant for lunch. Finding the place spacious, he invited her to cooperate in his budget meal project.
“Le unexpectedly agreed at once, lending the group space and utensils. The volunteers gathered together and contributed money to buy ingredients. Cooking was quite challenging as they did not get used to the job. But when the meals were given out, the difficulties gradually dissipate,” Long said.
|A free meal. Photo: Hanoi 5,000-Dong Meal Club|
After the first few weeks, “Hanoi 5,000-Dong Meal” began to receive support from many benefactors, obtaining more funds to continue distributing hundreds of food rations on weekends.
At first, the group distributed food to poor workers around Mai Dong Bridge. Then they went to hospitals in Hanoi to support needy patients’ families.
Week after week, the group gives out about 200 food packages to patients and their families every Sunday. During ten years with 288 weeks of making meals on Sundays, along with the “Exam-Season Support” campaign or during the complicated developments of the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 72,000 food rations have been handed out, Long estimated. Throughout that journey, the group has drawn the support of many benefactors and volunteers.
Continuing the young volunteer hearts
Bui Quang Long said that about five generations of volunteers had participated alternately in maintaining the kitchen for the past ten years.
The group has also called for and got the support of dozens of non-permanent members, most of whom are students, each assuming one link in the food delivery chain, from food processing, cooking, and packaging to transportation and distribution at hospital gates.
Sharing their feelings about “Hanoi 5,000-Dong Meals”, Luong Thuy Hien, Phung Thu Phuong, Nguyen Thi Huong, Nguyen Thanh Tung, and hundreds of volunteers said they are all touched and proud.
“We are fortunate that many happy and sad memories in our youth are attached to a meaningful volunteer journey. Contributing to sharing difficulties with the people helps us live a more meaningful life day by day”, said Nguyen Thi Anh Tho, a club volunteer.
|Members of the club are preparing free lunches for poor patients in Hanoi. Photo: Hanoi 5,000-Dong Meal Club|
Bui Van Toan, a patient in Bach Mai Hospital, said he felt very touched when he bought delicious rice dishes for only VND5,000.
“My lunch features grilled pork, braised tofu with tomato, and boiled vegetables. They are very palatable and suitable for patients far from home and with a limited medical budget like us,” he said.
Pham Thi Nam, another patient, said that although she had been treated many times at the hospital, this was the first time she had eaten such a cheap but delicious meal.
“The rice is very sticky, and the soup is delicious. I don’t know what to say but to express my thankfulness to the volunteers and benefactors,” she stated.
Besides cooking and handing out meals, over the years, the club has also participated in building charitable houses in Quoc Oai District, maintained a weekend playground for pediatric patients at the National Institute of Hematology & Blood Transfusion, opened a charity class at Bach Mai Hospital, regularly provided necessities and support to disadvantaged groups in Hanoi and sent donations to needy students in the northern mountainous provinces.
Nguyen Duc Tien - Standing Deputy Secretary of the Hanoi’s Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union and Chairman of the Hanoi’s Vietnam Youth Federation - highly appreciated the connections, charity environment, and lofty humanity that “Hanoi 5,000-Dong Meals” has created.
"The volunteer club's activities not only help poor patients to overcome their immediate difficult circumstances but also contribute to educating the young generation about the spirit of solidarity, mutual love, and sharing," he stated.
In 2021, when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, Hanoi’s Vietnam Youth Federation supported the club in organizing the “Zero Dong Canteen” program, offering meals to the patients and workers affected by the pandemic.
The group prepared nearly 6,000 food packages and gave them to people in difficult circumstances during the height of the pandemic.
The “Hanoi 5,000-Dong Meals” club is confident that as the group has reached a new stage, its journey will continue to encourage and support less fortunate people.