Phuoc Tuong pagoda – giving food to people for free

We (my friend Ha and me) went to Phuoc Tuong pagoda (by motorbike) on Sep 8, 2015.
From Ben Thanh market, you can walk to 163 Ham Nghi, get into bus no. 56, pay 6000 VND, drop at 412 Le Van Viet street, then walk around 550m to the pagoda. Total travel time is around an hour and 15 minutes.

What you can do if you visit this pagoda: if you like to volunteer, you can help people here cook and prepare the food. If not, you just simply can enjoy a free vegetarian meal here. Yes, you can volunteer here. Basically, they usually lack of people to help prepare. They have experienced foreign volunteers from different countries, mostly were referred to the pagoda by local volunteers. And the work here is so easy to understand, you just can see them and copy them, you don’t need to speak Vietnamese. And it’s fun. Just 10 mins after arrived, I felt I enjoy it. As well as I was amazed with what they are doing.

Yes, you can volunteer here, IF, just if, you don’t mind that this place somehow look dirty, not organized. Things not happen as you expected or normally experienced. Sometimes no one welcome you, care about you, ask you, just assign you. When you are about to leave, even no one say “Goodbye”, no one say “Thank you!”. Yes, you can volunteer here if you are really on will and expect nothing. If you care too much about your shoes would get dirty, simply don’t come here.

I definitely will come here again.

Some information about the pagoda:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/phuoctuong.temple
Their pictures and activities are updated here.
Address: Đường 102, KP7, phường Tăng Nhơn Phú A, quận 9, Tp.Hồ Chí Minh.
Here is an Youtube video about the pagoda (in Vietnamese).

The pagoda was built on 1741, was relocated to current place on 1834 on a 3ha land. Up to now, there are 11 abbots. Current abbot is Venerable Thich Nhut An. The pagoda has around 53 statues.

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I’ve known about this pagoda from an acquaintance of my housemate. She usually comes here with her school mates to volunteer, and she said that there are lots of things to do here. And yes, that’s true.

We arrived around 9:30am, after parking the motorbike, we went to kitchen and was shown to work at Packing Department. (I temporarily call it like that, other departments in this post I also named them for easier understanding).

This place made me the feeling of going back to He Cares Foundation in the Philippines. But they give to more people. One day, they give around 500 orders to outside. On the 1st, 14th, 15th, 29th/30th of lunar month, they treat around few hundreds of people come to this pagoda to eat. (29th/30th since some lunar months just have 29 days). For 1st and 7th month of the lunar year, they treat people every day.

A monk told me that: they wake up around 3am and went to bed around 10pm everyday.

As you can see in the picture, rice and food are cooked and were packed into disposable plastic boxes. An order included fried tofu and stir-fried cabbage or collard. Each blue plastic bag has 25 boxes and there are 20 bags like that. 25 disposable plastic spoons were put in each plastic bag. There were lots of things to do: divide rice, tofu, vegetables into boxes, close the box and tight it with rubberband, put into plastic bag, counting plastic spoons. When I was putting stir-fried cabbage into each box, since it was newly cooked so it was quite hot (for my hands). There were 2 monks and 6 volunteers (include me and my friend) at that Department at that time. The volunteers were student, neighbors live nearby the pagoda, a shoes maker. We also use disposable plastic gloves while working. The packs need to be loaded into the van (belong to the pagoda) by 10:30am and need to be given away by 11am.

According to people here and the above blackboard, the food were given to people at Thu Duc wholesale market, Eye Hospital at District 1 and TDTT (I don’t know what is that). Quantities for yesterday was 150, 200 and 150 respectively.

After done with prepare for giving outside, we work on to prepare for people who are coming to the pagoda. I was assigned to bring the plastic bowls from the bowl rack to the dining place. Later on I also ladled out collard soup into those bowls.

That is the soup pot and soup bowls.

Dragon fruit were served in plastic glasses. The fruits were cut into small pieces and aren’t smoothie.

This activity was organized since 2009. At that time, they just organized it 3 times per lunar month (the 14th, 15th and the last day of the lunar month), for 1st and 7th lunar month, it was every day. Now, as I’ve heard from a monk, it is every day of the year. Mostly people come here to eat are students, old people but the pagoda doesn’t count who come. Anyone is welcome, rich or poor, healthy or sick. As I observed by lunch time, around 80% people who came to eat were students (high school & college), the rest were old people, manual workers and office people.

Everyone can get a serving tray, get one order of rice and food or one order of porridge, or both with one soup and one orange juice with ice. After finish eating, they just can bring the utensils they used to Cleaning area and put them there.

People come to eat. Beside this dining room, there are few more dining tables outside of this room.

Some people even just simply brought their lunch boxes or plastic bags here and get the food take away.

Have a look to the kitchen, there are some cabinet look like refrigerators, the cleaning space here is large but usually have water on the floor (I didn’t like it), they still use wood to cook the food. There are some big pots and pans.

The wooden stoves here look so nice for me. Some cooked food are stored in big containers.

Here is how people here clean the rice by water:

There was someone willing to replace me to ladle the soup, I went to Rice Warehouse

Rice Warehouse contains LOTs of rice which will be given away to people. The pagoda repacking the big rice pack into smaller one. Each big pack can divide into 5 small (green) packs. They use a machine to close the small packs. Then they will work with local government to find out families/people who are poor or need support. They give rice coupon for those people/family and then those people/family can go to the pagoda, use the rice coupon to get rice. Since it’s a heavy work, so sometimes there are around 20 people work there, few monks, mostly volunteers and mostly boy. Ha – my friend has heard that there will be around 200+ big rice packs coming this evening.

A monk assigned me to bring lunch for the people in the Rice Warehouse, but then an old lady told me to just tell them go to back to eat. None of them went back. We brought food there for them, but after a while, I checked, they still didn’t eat.

Ha and me had lunch around 12:15pm. Here is my serving:

The pagoda has a small store where they sell Buddhism clothes, palm oil, seaweeds, pepper, vegetarian sauces, pickled tofu, chili with salt, …

After lunch, we went to the backyard of the pagoda and wow … it amazed me, it looks like a small vegetable market. Many many vegetables are on the floor and many of them are still unloaded from the van.

Here is the knives collection to serve the preparation process and the van of the pagoda.

We helped to prepare kohlrabi (remove skin, chop into small pieces) before we left by 2pm.

We were wondering how did they get money and resources to serve their activity. Then we have heard from someone that people also donate for the pagoda for this activity: money, vegetables, resources. Like all the veggies we see, are donated by people, and the pagoda store them and try to use wisely.

Ha has heard from someone that this pagoda has around 40+ monks.

Few scenes of the pagoda:

A cottage, a dog is sleeping, 2 monks and 2 people are playing Chinese chess

If you plan to come here, you may want to know this. Here is the toilet of the pagoda:

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I went there again on Sep 20 with Huyen (a 4th year student). There was a blood donation activity on that day.

Next to parking site is a large garden, which store wood for cooking in kitchen.

At another part of the pagoda, a group of young people are practicing for Full Moon festival.

We arrived around 9am, and people there said that the cooking is finished. I asked if there is something else to do. And we were showed to help preparation of food for people after praying activity.

One set of food for 6 people included: one plastic bowl of rice, one plastic bowl of squash soup, a plate of stir-fried water spinach, a plate of pickled cabbage, a plate of vegetarian spring rolls, a plate of fried vegetarian food (don’t know exactly what is that, inside is coconut).

We then cut tofu, there were lots of basin contain lots of tofu, we cut them into pieces, then put into a basket to let the water run out. There was someone frying all of those tofu.

Afterward everyone started to clean the place: the dishes and the floor.

We then had our lunch by 1pm. I was same table with 5 other volunteers.

3 thoughts on “Phuoc Tuong pagoda – giving food to people for free

  1. I think you are doing fantastic work feeding to less fortunate. I’m American and will help you when I come there.

  2. Hi, I read your article and I find it amazing. I just moved to HCMC and I would like to volunteer there on a regular basis, how do you recommend I get in touch with them ? I looked at the links you provided, and I could not find any sign-up forms or details to orient the volunteers, how should I proceed, just go there ? Thanks a lot !

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