Lyu Zhonglan, a street cleaner from Hefei, Anhui province, received breakfast from her team leader at 6 am on Tuesday.
All of the city's more than 12,000 urban sanitation workers have recently been getting free breakfasts every day they are on duty.
Lyu, whose 8-hour shift often starts at 4 am, was given porridge, steamed buns and a boiled egg on Tuesday. She said the distribution was a heartwarming and caring gesture to the workers.
She said the food varies from day to day.
The city's urban management authorities began piloting the practice in certain areas in 2019.
"I usually brought some food from home," Lyu said.
"Sometimes I got tired of preparing it and I didn't want to buy any from breakfast stalls to save money."
Most of the city's urban sanitation workers earn less than 3,000 yuan ($466) a month, according to Xia Zeyi, an official from Hefei's urban management bureau.
With the costs covered by the city government, multiple catering companies are involved in the breakfast distribution business, each responsible for certain areas, he said, adding that the cost ranges from 6 to 8 yuan per meal.
Some workers may not need to start work as early as Lyu, Xia said. For example, they might start at 6 am or 8 am, but they would still have difficulties with breakfasts.
"For those who do not need to work in the morning, the money will be added to their salary," he said, adding that only a few could choose that option.
He said he believed that distributing the breakfasts was better than adding the money to their salaries.
"They do have difficulties with breakfasts and we care about their health and convenience," he said.
"If they choose money, some of them would probably still not have breakfast and could face health problems in the long run."
There have been frequent reports across the country about caring people offering free meals to sanitation workers, but Xia said such occasional offerings could not solve the problem once for all.
Recently, the provincial authorities, including the Anhui Provincial Housing and Urban-Rural Development Department, issued a document to encourage the province's 15 other cities to learn from Hefei's practice in offering breakfasts.