Poor people and students have lunch for VND2,000 at Nu Cuoi (Smile), a charity eatery in Ho Chi Minh City
Many people were skeptical in the beginning when they saw the price of VND2,000, or less than 10 cents, for lunch at a new eatery in Ho Chi Minh City.
They were not sure if they would get a decent meal at that price.
But people are more than satisfied with a meal that contains meat, soup, vegetables, unlimited rice and soup, iced tea, and a piece of fruit.
Nu Cuoi (Smile) at 6 Ho Xuan Huong Street, District 3, which opens every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon and provides lunch for 250 people, has come as a blessing to many poor people, they told Tuoi Tre newspaper.
Nguyen Van Duong, 65, who still works as a security guard at a hospital since he needs the money to treat his liver disease, said: “I used to spend VND19,000 (US$0.91) every day for lunch, so now I can save VND17,000.
"After three meals here in a week, I have enough to pay for an examination. I don’t have to ask my children for money any more.”
The lunch is “clean, tasty, and makes me full,” he said.
The eatery provides tissues and has several tables, all of which are clean, according to the diners.
Hung, a 13-year-old street lottery ticket vendor from south central Vietnam, said he has the best chicken of his life at the place.
It allows him to send more money home to his mother, who depends on a vegetable garden to take care of his three younger siblings after his father died.
Nguyen Minh Loc, the former chief editor of a local newspaper who manages the eatery, said 30 percent of the diners are students, 30 percent are poor workers, and 25 percent are patients from the nearby Dermatology and Ophthalmology Hospitals and their companions.
Hung, a scrap-metal collector from the neighboring Binh Duong Province, makes only a couple of dollars a day, and the VND2,000 lunch is a big help for him.
He said he used to travel a long distance looking for a cheap eatery, and pay VND12,000 for a meal with a lot of rice but little else.
Now he manages to save money to take a bath. The man only has a place to sleep and has to use public bathrooms for a quick bath. “It’s VND5,000, not cheap.”
Loc said he does not know much about the rest of the diners, only that they are dressed well.
But not all those who are dressed try to take advantage of the cheap meals.
One such man had come back with two sacks of rice, and another with drinks for the voluntary waiters.
Loc called such donations to the eatery “sacred.” All of it would be used to serve poor people since the volunteers have agreed to help run the eatery with their own contributions, he said.
The eatery was opened by the HCMC Love Charity Foundation on October 12 and the place has got more volunteers than it needs.
Most of them are female students and employees of nearby companies.
One volunteer named Thuong sells snacks opposite the place from around noon until late at night. Afterwards she comes over to the eatery to make food for the next day and again early the next morning, Loc said.
Another volunteer, Hung, a company driver, takes care of the diners’ vehicles and helps those on wheelchairs. He also cleans tables and does other chores when there are no customers.
Many of the diners find the volunteers’ devotion moving.
Hung, the scrap collector, was almost in tears when he said: “I was never treated so well.”
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