“While everyone was panic buying, we were panic food rescuing!” jokes Rise Against Hunger (RAH) Philippines’ director Jomar Fleras. Fleras and his 12-person team have been working overtime since Monday, when President Rodrigo Duterte announced the enhanced quarantine of the entire Luzon island.[READ: Duterte declares state of calamity throughout PH for 6 months as COVID-19 cases rise]
Not a lot of people know about RAH, a US-based NGO that aims to end world hunger. Its Philippine office, which was launched five years ago, was the first food bank in the country.
“We feed about 15,000 Filipino children every day,” Fleras says, “apart from distributing food during times of crisis.” RAH has its own distribution channels that include centers in Brgy. Vitas in Tondo as well as Brgy. Ususan in Taguig. They also donate food to healthcare workers in 20 Department of Health (DOH) hospitals all over the National Capital Region (NCR). A fourth channel is at the Don Bosco resettlement area in Calauan, Laguna.
Fleras points out that they operate nationwide, with activations in Bacolod, Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Dagupan, Cagayan de Oro, etc., apart from NCR. In the provinces, RAH partners with LGUs and NGOs who pick up food donations directly from partner companies such as San Miguel Corporation, Coca Cola (for bottled water), Monde Nissin, Mondelez and Unilever.
A bulk of the food they receive are what Fleras calls rescued food, which are goods that are two to four weeks away from expiration. They also collect or receive, another type of rescued food—surplus from manufacturers. Fleras says that, in the current situation, “there is a lot of surplus due to stoppage of production.”
There are also food donations. Prior to the interview, Fleras got a call from the office of Senator Nancy Binay, who donated 1,000 sacks of rice, already divided into 10-kg. packs. “And that’s unsolicited,” he says, delighted by the news, “because I don’t even know Senator Binay personally.”
Since the announcement of the enhanced quarantine last Monday, RAH has received 7,000 eggs, 2,000 kilos of chicken, the rice from Sen. Binay’s office and about two million worth of surplus canned and packed food. “There’s a total of 300,000 eggs available,” Fleras says, “from a biscuit factory that had to shut down.”
While they usually apply a one-on-one distribution scheme in the NCR, the lockdown forced a “change in RAH’s modality.” “We are now working with barangay leaders, who can distribute food door-to-door,” Fleras explains. “It’s almost a daily operation because we don’t have big storage facilities. And people are going hungry.”
For now, RAH is expecting more surplus due to the current situation. “But once production is stopped, which is already starting to happen, eventually mauubos na rin ang over-supply,” Fleras explains. “That’s why we’ve started to mobilize financial donations, so we can buy from the regular market. We will be using those funds to purchase food and finance distribution logistics.”
In the time of the COVID-19 outbreak, RAH plays a crucial role in alleviating the plight of the underprivileged who lack the financial capability or social safety net to cope with the lockdown. The situation is expected to reach critical levels in the coming days as RAH’s food supply streams get depleted.
In RAH’s Facebook page, they’ve announced a call for cash donations.
Donors can deposit to Rise Against Hunger Philippines Inc.’s BPI account, 3601-0010-46 (Peso), 003604-0153-23 (Dollar, with Swift code BOPIPHMM), or their BDO account, 004318010970. They can also contact Fleras directly through 0998-5523495 or send an email to [email protected]
To request for food deliveries, community leaders and NGOs can simply call Fleras’ contact number for assistance. “In the past days, I’ve realized that the bayanihan spirit is alive. Those who have are willing to share, while the less privileged are very grateful because they realize that they are not alone in this difficult situation. I am hopeful that this crisis will bring out the best in humanity.”
Photos courtesy of Rise Against Hunger
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Writer: DEVI DE VEYRA