This Relief Organization Fights COVID-19 by Feeding the Hungry
As the country turns its attention toward the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases overwhelming the healthcare system, there is another critical aspect of the pandemic that people should remember:
“There are many who are hungry,” says Jomar Fleras, executive director of Rise Against Hunger Philippines. “We are really not prepared.”
The Fight Against Hunger
Fleras refers to the shortage of food experienced by marginalized communities in the National Capital Region (NCR). Some of these people already lead a hand-to-mouth existence but now, with the quarantine halting work and travel, they are in even more danger of going hungry because they have no means to buy or access food.
Amid the pandemic, Rise is working overtime to make sure these communities have food to eat. Established in the country in 2014 as Stop Hunger Now, it responds to natural and man-made emergencies, including typhoons and health crises like COVID-19.
Rise operates three food banks in Taguig (the first food bank in the country), Tondo, and Negros (a mobile food bank operated with the help of the Negrense Volunteers for Change Foundation) and conducts regular feeding programs, helping as many as 15,000 children every day, from Dagupan to Isabela, Cagayan de Oro to Davao.
This simplest way to explain how it works is this: Food manufacturing companies donate products to Rise. The organization collects and processes the goods and then delivers them to barangays, who then distribute the food parcels to the families in their communities.
Right now, instead of gathering in one place for the distribution of goods, this is done door-to-door to keep everyone safe.
The Specifics of Distribution
Rise most recently donated grocery packs to 120 families in Navotas and will soon distribute a week-long supply of food to 750 families in Sitio Pusawan in Barangay Ususan, Taguig, and a month-long supply to 2,000 children in Calauan, Laguna. “In our case, we give at least one week of goods. Otherwise, it’s not worth the effort. That gives them some sort of margin to collect other donations,” explains Fleras.
As well, Rise does its best to support the same communities (it is focusing on NCR because of the lockdown) and distribute food regularly. Each family receives the same amount (and the same brand) of goods to uphold fairness, and more important, receives 1,500 to 2,000 calories worth of food a day. As Fleras points out, aside from hand washing (and social distancing), improving your immunity through proper nutrition is key to preventing COVID-19 infection. "We want to make sure they’re healthy,” he says.
On the ground, people express their thanks to Rise, but Fleras reports they are also asking questions. They see on the news that local governments and businesses are donating so much for COVID-19 relief, but these communities say they don’t receive anything. According to Fleras, when they do receive help, it is not enough. Sometimes they are asked to live on two cups of rice for two days.
The Business of Donation
It is also interesting to get into why businesses are donating to Rise. Apart from altruism, there is economics at play in their giving, which is not a bad thing.
According to Fleras, supermarkets return products to companies when not sold within a period. These companies need to dispose of the goods, but instead of letting them go to waste, they will send them to Rise. At the moment, the organization sees an influx of donations because there is a surplus in the market, especially of non-essential goods like sugary snacks that people are ignoring on the shelves.
Rise receives donations such as corned beef, milk, and eggs, as well as non-essential goods like cookies, juices, and sweets. The executive director further explains the reasons behind the donations: For eggs, when producers see reduced demand from, say, fast food joints, most of which are closed now, they are faced with the future cost of letting the eggs hatch and feeding the chicks, so they donate these to the group. “We’re about to collect 300,000 eggs from suppliers,” he says.
Fleras does not shy away from saying that canned goods given to Rise are near expiration dates, because the group adheres to very strict food safety guidelines. And this is why, when asked how private citizens can help, it advises individuals to donate money instead of food. Sometimes people would give food items that are already open, which is not acceptable.
Nevertheless, Rise's fight against hunger needs your help. Fleras projects that “we will run out of food if the lockdown continues because there are no more raw materials.”
“Everybody needs food," he continues. "There’s food available now, but until when will it last?”
To donate to Rise Against Hunger Philippines, visit facebook.com/RiseAgainstHungerPhil/