My friend Danica called for donations a few days after Taal Volcano erupted two weeks ago. Her family is from the lakeside town of Ambulong, part of the danger zone where evacuation is mandatory. I decided to help her raise funds. Tanauan City, after all, is my hometown, too, and it felt very personal to me.
I didn’t know what to expect—I don’t know how to ask people for money, and I don’t know exactly what to do with the money. I only know we will buy relief goods. Wasn’t that the most obvious thing to do?
We raised funds and called for donations for two days, and we said we would just have to make do with whatever we could raise. I didn’t think we could actually pull it off.
How did we do it?
Call for donations from your family and close friends. If it’s personal to you, it’s personal to them. They will genuinely want to help.
I told my mom about our little fundraiser, and she immediately volunteered to cook spaghetti for 200 children, the number of children in our chosen barangay, Poblacion 6 in Tanauan City.
Danica set up a GoFundMe account so the fund drive could be easily shared on social media. Meanwhile, I spread the word among my relatives and close friends—a chosen few, who all gave their support.
My coworkers volunteered to help distribute relief goods.
So, we have our funds, we have food for the children, and we have volunteers.
Ask before buying
Choose a community you know. Choose a community you know will help. And choose a community you know needs help.
It is very important to talk to the community and ask them what they actually need before buying relief goods. We think of the obvious—drinking water, used clothes, noodles.
And since we think this is what they need, it’s likely there will be an oversupply. For used clothes, please make sure these are actual items they can use, such as T-shirts, pants, slippers. Please do not give your wedding gown, faux fur, knee-high boots with stiletto heels. This is not an ukay-ukay and your chance to Marie Kondo your closet.
We learned that our chosen community is housing 200 children and about 600 adults. I checked the funds we had raised in two days and scratched my head. Did I bite off more than I could chew?
Ok, we can do this! They needed ready-to-eat food and hygiene packs. Our budget simply would not reach 800. So, we decided to make packs for the number of families, with separate packs for the children.
Below is a list of what our packs contained. I hope this can be a practical guide for packing relief goods. Anyone can do it. But, please remember, you cannot just pack and go. You need to coordinate with your chosen community first.
Milk and juice boxes
Marshmallows or any treats
Cup noodles (please check first if the evacuees have access to hot water)
Hygiene sets for a family of four to five—toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, two bars of soap, a roll of toilet paper
Cupcakes and bread (packs of 12)
Four types of canned goods with easy-open tabs (they do not have access to a can opener)
A pack of crackers (packs of 24)
As alternative to the packs, you can also send the donations directly to the coordinators of the evacuation center, who will repack them to make sure each of the evacuees gets his share. I suggest doing so if you don’t have enough packs for each of the evacuees in the center.
Additional tip for someone who’s doing this for the first time and who doesn’t have an army of volunteers: When you buy the relief goods, you can pick one of each and ask the customer service to get in bulk for you. Landmark Alabang was very helpful, and shopping for relief goods was a breeze there.
What to expect in the evacuation center:
I didn’t expect our relief operations to go as smoothly as they did under the circumstances. When we got to the gym in Poblacion 6, it was mayhem. They had makeshift living spaces, and were using cardboard boxes as sleeping mats. All 800 of them were in one gymnasium. No words could really explain the sight of that.
So I was really surprised that the distribution went seamlessly. Each family was required to register with the coordinators and was assigned numbers. The coordinators have a record of each member of the family.
I was impressed. The children fell into an organized line and waited for their turn for spaghetti and fun packs. Then the adults waited for their numbers to be called out.
It would not have been this smooth if things weren’t coordinated well ahead of time. They knew what time we were coming. And they knew what to do when we arrived. I cannot reiterate it enough—please talk to the community first.
What you can do to help
I’m sure a lot of people want to help and be on-ground, but you don’t want to add to the chaos. In local parlance, isa ka pang iintindihin.
Even if you want to help, you don’t actually know where to start. That’s how I felt. But start small and it will go a long way.
The truckloads of relief goods entering Tanauan City were both fascinating and intimidating to watch. Our donations for 800 evacuees, compared to those for the hundreds of thousands who had already evacuated, seemed like a blip on the radar.
But helping 800 felt like it was the equivalent of helping 8,000. What came to mind was, this is probably how Jesus fed the multitude with five loaves and two fish.
Once you’re done with your little fundraising among your friends and family, here’s how else you can help:
Sponsor meals. Imagine feeding over 100,000, a number that’s still growing with more forced evacuations. Coordinate with the evacuation center and find out if you can sponsor a meal so they plan accordingly.
Poblacion 6 is calling for donations for underwear—please donate in generic sizes (you may get in touch with me so I can get it to them, and also to make sure they don’t have an oversupply ([email protected]).
Help pack relief goods and help deliver the goods. Remember to please coordinate with the evacuation centers first.
Start small. Pool your resources, give what you can. We still have work to do. Please help spread the word. Start small and believe in the ripple effect.