50,000 warm meals so far for the hungry
Long before the community pantry caught the attention of like-minded Good Samaritans, a group of volunteers had started quietly helping the poor. In an extraordinary way.
The lockdown in March 2020 caught many by surprise. Men, women, and children sleeping in karitons, or inside jeepneys, or under large trucks, or on the cold pavement, mushroomed. Some had been evicted from the tiny shanties they had been renting. No public transport would bring them back to their respective home provinces. Many of these street dwellers had been living in karitons long before the pandemic. They used to pick recyclable items which they sold to junkshops. But with the junkshops closed, how could they survive?
With business closures, displaced returning overseas workers, and restricted mobility, the problem of hunger spiraled. According to the National Economic and Development Authority, an estimated 3.2 million Metro Manila residents, or 23 percent, are now hungry after one year of the pandemic.
Four good men got together to think of a practical way to help. They decided to start where they were also residing — Quezon City. Their second decision was to meet the most urgent and essential need — food. They started with what they had — one sack of rice, P7,000, and a few friends who shared their desire to help feed the hungry. On March 24, 2020, they began by serving 36 warm breakfast packs to those living on the streets. As days, weeks, and months passed, friends volunteered to shop for ingredients, and some to cook and distribute the food packs. Through personal contacts and posts on Facebook, the group grew to more than 100 individual supporters and 15 faith-based groups, churches, schools, civic groups, barkadas, and business groups. Soon it was called Martha’s Hot Kitchen (MHK), named after the Bible character who busied herself serving a meal to Jesus and his disciples.
To MHK volunteers, providing food is not only a way to help the poor but an act of worship to God. To date, MHK has distributed around 50,000 warm breakfast meals. For several months even under strict lockdown, the members were able to serve breakfast every day, except Sunday. But when the lockdown eased and many of the volunteers had to return to work, MHK continued to serve breakfast every Saturday.
With meager resources, the group has to be strategically organized. One group does the marketing and distributes the ingredients to all the volunteer cooks or the kitchen crews. At the peak of the lockdown, individuals, families, friends of friends, and owners of closed restaurants volunteered to cook. Recognizing that the breakfast meal could be the street dwellers’ only meal for the day, MHK made sure that the meal is well-planned with rice, meat, and vegetables.
The kitchen crews cook as early as three in the morning. Distribution has to be done between six to seven in the morning. To date, there are three regular kitchen crews: a family-owner of a coffee shop, a faith-based student organization, and a church along Quezon Avenue, which has also become the center of food distribution. There are more kitchens if we count those who cook part-time to take the place of the regular kitchen crews whenever they are unable to cook.
Another group of volunteers picks the food that are then neatly packed in environment-friendly boxes. With their cars, they ply the streets they are assigned to cover. Equipped with masks, face shields, and prayers for protection, they distribute the hot meals often to still-sleeping street dwellers, who would thankfully accept the food.
MHK volunteers feel that the problem of hunger among the street dwellers in Quezon City and other cities is just too great for a single group to handle. If only more groups could set up their own kitchen teams to serve the street dwellers nearest their places, then we could help the poor ride it out during these critical times. MHK and similar feeding efforts cannot solve the problem of hunger and poverty long-term, but they have offered a way “para makatawid ang nagugutom” (so the hungry can have something to eat). In collaboration with faith-based groups and individuals, the MHK core group has been meeting with relevant government agencies to discuss how best to help the street dwellers in a sustainable and safe way. May MHK’s tribe and likeminded groups increase.
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Leonora Aquino-Gonzales is one of the 100 supporters of MHK. She used to work at the World Bank as a communications specialist. She is currently teaching at the College of Mass Communication, University of the Philippines.
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