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Sisters unload food, feed hungry in Ho Chi Minh City's COVID crackdown


  • ...Dominican Sister Anne Pauline Nguyen Thi Ngo offers food to a patient in Thong Nhat General Hospital in Bien Hoa, Vietnam. (CNS photo/courtesy Sister Anne Pauline Nguyen Thi Ngo via Global Sisters Report)
  • ...Dominican Sisters in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, prepare raw fruits and roots in their motherhouse's yard before giving them to people affected by COVID-19. (CNS photo/courtesy Sister Mary Nguyen Thi Minh Du via Global Sisters Report)
  • ...Servitium Christi Sister Anne Do Thi Thoa, center, and two volunteers prepare food to deliver to people in need in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (CNS photo/courtesy Sister Anne Do Thi Thoa via Global Sisters Report)
  • ...A woman who collects used items on the street at night receives food from volunteers in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (CNS photo/courtesy Sister Mary Pham Thi Huong Huong via Global Sisters Report)
  • ...Lovers of the Holy Cross sisters cook food at their convent in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (CNS photo/courtesy Sister Mary Pham Thi Huong via Global Sisters Report)
  • ...Sister Mary Nguyen Thi Hau of the Lovers of the Holy Cross hands gifts to a woman who works as a scrap collector in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. (CNS photo/courtesy Sister Mary Nguyen Thi Hau via Global Sisters Report)

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HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (CNS) -- Thirty sisters of the Da Lat Lovers of the Holy Cross hurriedly prepared and cooked rice, fish, meat and vegetables, packing meals in foam boxes at the kitchen in their day care center.

Groups of their neighbors and local authorities volunteered to collect and provide free food for lunches and dinners for people in quarantined places in Ho Chi Minh City, population 8.8 million. On July 9, Vietnam's largest city started 15 days of tough measures to restrict movement to deal with the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19, reported Global Sisters Report.

"We started to offer free food to people in need on July 15 by cooking hundreds of portions per day," said Sister Mary Pham Thi Huong, head of the day care center. Most sisters work at the center but have become jobless since May when the center was closed due to the pandemic.

The British news agency Reuters reported July 29 that Vietnam was bracing for another wave of COVID-19 infections after media reported new cases in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the Central Highlands linked to a recent outbreak in Danang.

Lockdown measures required residents to stay indoors, Global Sisters Report said. Traditional markets closed, gatherings of two or more people were banned in public places, and public transportation services were halted. People living in isolated areas where infections have increased have little access to buy basic commodities, suffer a severe lack of food, are losing jobs and are under a lot of stress due to social distancing measures.

Sister Huong said she appreciated volunteers and local officials who worked with them by distributing food to people. Many people have called her to seek emergency aid.

"We are moved to tears at the fact that many recipients said they have to use halves of portions for lunch and the rest for supper to survive in the hard time," the nun said.

She said that in early June, she spent two days searching her area and found that lots of people were in a tight spot because of the pandemic.

"We rode bicycles to hand out rice and vegetables to local households, homeless people and those who live under bridges," she said. The nuns could not visit them once the city started to impose the strict curbs on movement.

"At first, we have to use our community's food to supply to vulnerable people," she said. "We are over the moon that other people who are interested in our charity service make generous donations to us to serve people," giving the nuns rice, fish, meat and vegetables.

The sisters are doing their best to get supplies to people "until our food runs out or the government lifts the curbs," Huong said, adding that two other communities of her congregation also dispense emergency food to people in need in the city.

Sister Anne Do Thi Thoa, vice superior of the Servitium Christi community based in Ho Chi Minh City, told Global Sisters Report her sisters prepare 100-120 packages of food daily. Local people keep a safe distance from one another when they come to collect packages at the convent, she said.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is a chance to share what we have with our brothers and sisters in need. We could close our houses, but open our hearts to share love with others in the hard time," she said.

Dominican Sister Mary Nguyen Thi Minh Du said many families could not afford to buy basic food, especially vegetables and roots. Those items are sold at much higher prices than before the outbreak, as food supplies are limited and local traditional markets have been closed. Local people are allowed to go shopping every three days.

Sister Du, who works at the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of St. Rose of Lima based in Thu Duc City, said priests, sisters' relatives, and people from other places make generous contributions of food items to the congregation to serve people lacking food.

"We quickly offer emergency food to people in isolated places and migrant workers who lost jobs due to the coronavirus and have no money to pay their monthly rent," she said. Lay volunteers help carry packages of food to recipients.

The nun said one day, many people with face masks queued up patiently in the rain at 5 a.m. in front of the convent's gate to wait to receive vegetables, although they were told to be at the convent at 6:15 a.m. "They collected 600 kilograms (1,322 pounds) of different kinds of vegetables in a short time."

She said on July 16, sisters woke at midnight and unloaded 5 tons of fruits, noodles and vegetables from a lorry. Some bags of food weighed more than 60 pounds. The donations were from benefactors from Ban Me Thuot in the Central Highlands.

"We finished our work at 2 a.m. We are happy to see people have fresh food for their meals," she said.

She said sisters also cook food and provide 400 portions a day for free to poor workers, Mondays through Fridays. Volunteers help hand out portions to households.

Teresa Tran Thi Thu Ha from Thanh Linh Parish in Thu Duc City said many households, including hers, have survived for one week by receiving free fresh food from the Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.

When her area was quarantined, "at first, we had not a clue how we could get food. We are lucky that the nuns come to our aid," Ha said, adding that the sisters delivered food to their houses.

The migrant garment worker said: "We are living on mere donations. We will die of starvation without the nuns' help since we lost jobs, have no income and live far away from home."

Dominican Sister Anne Pauline Nguyen Thi Ngo said sisters normally serve a simple breakfast to hundreds of poor patients and their relatives in in the compound of their convent. The crackdown measures prevented them from doing so.

Sister Ngo, a doctor at a nearby government hospital, said she offers basic food to patients in the hospital when she gives them medical checkups.

"I am weary but delighted to do something helpful for the poor," said Sister Ngo. She said sisters receive food from local farmers, then pack items and deliver them to factory workers, migrants and people in need in isolated and quarantined places.

On July 16, at the city's request, Father Joseph Mary Tran Hoa Hung of the Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese called on local religious to volunteer to serve COVID-19 patients over the next one or two months at health centers.

He said those who are under the age of 40 and have no preexisting illnesses will be chosen, inoculated and trained in health care before being sent to the centers.

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Pham, based in Vietnam, is a correspondent for Global Sisters Report.

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