Businessman Hoang Tuan Anh set up his first rice machine in Ho Chi Minh City.
"I refer to this machine as a ‘rice ATM' because people can withdraw rice from it, assured that there are still good people out there who want to give them a second chance," Anh said.
Vietnam is under a nationwide stay-at-home order to help stop the spread of COVID-19. During the order, many small businesses have been forced to close. This has left thousands of people unable to work.
Nguyen Thi Ly is a 34-year-old mother of three. Her husband is unemployed because of the coronavirus restrictions. She said, "This rice ATM has been helpful. With this one bag of rice, we can have enough for one day."
She added, "Now, we only need other food. Our neighbors sometimes give us some leftover food, or we have instant noodles."
The machine releases 1.5 kilograms of rice from a small container to waiting workers. Many of those waiting in line are street sellers. Others earn a living from direct paying jobs like house cleaning.
Before creating the rice machine, Hoang Tuan Anh had donated smart doorbells to hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City to help with virus-fighting efforts. But then he decided to use his technological experience to find a new solution to get free food to the public.
State media in Vietnam reports that similar "rice ATMs" have been set up in other big cities like Hanoi, Hue and Danang. Anh said he wanted people to feel like they still could still get food and resources, even with worsening economic conditions.
Many people in the Communist-ruled nation depend on government financial help during such difficult times. Vietnam has also approved economic assistance measures to help some of those hurt by the current situation.
But some workers who earn a living from street businesses – like Nguyen Thi Ly and her family – say they have not received enough support. She told Reuters reporters that her family does not have enough money to pay for housing and other necessary things.
"I read about this rice ATM on the internet. I came to check it out, and couldn't believe it came out for real," Ly said. "I really hope the sponsors would keep doing this until the end of the pandemic."
I'm Bryan Lynn.