In many ways, it’s like a fiesta. There is food. There is laughter. There are little children running around, and grownups trying their hardest to catch them.
But this is no fiesta. Instead of pancit and lechon, it was gulay at longganisa. Instead of ladies and gents dressed in their finest, guests came as they were, in garments that had seen better days. Instead of pomp and pageantry, there was chaos and confusion. Guests made themselves comfortable where they can, on the floor, by the wall, or out on the street. Volunteers hurry out to serve plates of food. And every now and then, there is the sigh of sweet relief as a starving belly is once again warmed to satisfaction.
Welcome to Duterte’s Kitchen!
A soup kitchen run by volunteers, Duterte’s Kitchen is located along EDSA, right beside the MRT station in Cubao. It initially served lugaw to streetchildren, but powered by donations from private citizens, it now serves warm food to some 60 to 80 individuals every day.
May Gaoiran, a fourth year law student, has been a volunteer at Duterte’s Kitchen for two weeks now. In Ilocos, where she hails from, she would give out presents to less fortunate children every Christmas. When she found out about Duterte’s Kitchen on Facebook, she immediately signed up as a volunteer, hoping she could reach out to even more children.
She says, “I’m here for the kids. ‘Yun lang po talaga. Kung ano po yung task on hand, kung kaya ko naman, why not? Kaya nga andito ako.”
May comes here three times a week. Apart from spending time with the children, she also receives calls, coordinates with the kitchen team, manages the organization’s social media account, conducts briefing for volunteers, and schedules media interviews.
“It’s tiring but at the end of the day, worth it lahat. To see the kids, ‘yung smile nila and the mere fact nakilala ka na nila even if one day pa lang ini-spend mo sa kanila, ang sarap-sarap sa pakiramdam.”
Faith Panilag shares May’s sentiments. She, too has made a vow to share her blessings with the less fortunate during the holiday season. An entrepreneur who lives in the Cubao area, she volunteered her services and was quickly designated as kitchen manager.
“Normally tuwing December talaga, panata kong magbigay ng gifts sa labas. At least eto, nakakatulong na ko sa kitchen at the same time, nakakatulong pa rin ako sa nangangailangan talaga,” she says.
Faith is at the kitchen every day, prepping meals and serving them. In the beginning, the kitchen only served lugaw to streetchildren. But as donations poured in, it added lunch, merienda, and dinner to the menu for any individual wanting a hot meal.
A lot of their walk-in donors, Faith observes, come from the provinces. She says, “Nag-harvest sila ng gulay sa Bicol, binigay yung ibang [ani nila], isang pirasong pandan, tapos dalawang maliit na papaya, parang kahit paano nagpapasalamat sa amin.”
The weeks leading to Christmas, Duterte’s Kitchen has seen an uptick of donors, averaging about 10 walk-ins a day.
Inspired By The President
When news of Duterte’s Kitchen broke out in social media, President Rodrigo Duterte’s staunchest supporters quickly latched onto it, proclaiming it as another testament to how deeply the president cared for the less fortunate.
But though the soup kitchen was named after the president, the idea of setting it up did not actually come from him.
According to Dexter Araquel, project director of Duterte’s Kitchen, the soup kitchen is the brainchild of Alfonso Cusi, secretary of the Department of Energy who was vice-chairman of PDP-Laban. Cusi was inspired by the soup kitchens that Duterte had set up in Davao while he was mayor, and thought it would be a good idea to start one in Manila.
Fortunately, there was a readily available location, and a strategic one at that. The space where Duterte’s Kitchen now stands was previously a Tapa King outlet, and was turned over to the organization rent-free.
Dexter and two other volunteers started with P5,000 capital given by Cusi. They thought that the money would be good for a week’s worth of lugaw for streetchildren. At the time, they didn’t think of asking for donations or calling out for volunteers. They just wanted to feed the children.
When Duterte’s Kitchen opened on Oct. 10, its first three customers where streetchildren who were nanonobre. These are the kids who would get on board buses with envelopes asking for donations of any amount for some excuse or another.
He recalls, “Eventually, they would call their friends. May mga kumakain na rin… Ang nangyari, every day nalugaw, every day nalugaw. Sabi din nung mga bata, ‘Wala ba kayong kanin diyan? Ganito na lang, may bigas naman kayo.Bili kami ng ulam, kayo ang kanin.’ ‘Sige,’ sabi ko. Nagdadala na sila ng ulam.”
With the children in their care for at least an hour or so, Dexter considered other things they could offer to them, apart from food in their bellies. That was when the idea of posting a call out for volunteers on social media hit him. Dexter was no stranger to the digital world having worked on Duterte’s social media campaign during the elections.
The call out was very straightforward. It read:
Naghahanap po kami ng mga #PartnersForChange:
1. Magtuturo ng mga batang lansangan ng pagbabasa at pagsusulat. Mon-Fri, 6-8 p.m.
2. Magtuturong Musical Instrument. Mon-Fri, 6-8 p.m.
3. Magpapakain at makikipagkwentuhan sa mga batang lansangan habang kumakain. 7 a.m.-12 p.m. at 1 p.m.-6 p.m.
But the simple message hit a nerve among many students and young professionals who were looking for an opportunity to help their countrymen in a way that was direct and accessible. Among the first to respond were young professionals working in BPO companies around the area. Students soon joined the list, excited to be part of an organization that wanted to make a difference. Politics was never an issue with the volunteers with Dexter describing them as individuals with balanced political views. As one volunteer put it, he supports the President because he is the President of the country.
The infusion of volunteers brought on an upsurge of ideas, from professionalizing systems to strengthening social media. It gave the organization a new direction. They started organizing their inventory, taking photographs of donors and their donations, and posting the same on social media for transparency. They started systematizing procedures, hoping to consolidate everything in a manual for easy reference.
At the same time, donations started pouring in, a lot of which came from overseas Filipino workers. Most wanted to send cash, but Dexter is adamant in keeping the organization a cashless one.
He says, “Ang gusto kasi naming talagang ma-emphasize dito eh, yung kung ano man yung ibibigay ninyo, direct naibibigay namin sa mga bata. Higit sa lahat po, tumbukin na natin ‘yung nangyayari ngayon. Nandiyan yung spirit of volunteerism at gusto natin na kapwa Pilipino tutulong din sa kanilang kapwa Pilipino.
More ways of helping
Feeling helpful? Here are two other organizations where you can pitch in:
Childhope Philippines is a non-profit, non-political, non-sectarian organization whose principal purpose is to advocate for the cause of street children in the Philippines. The Street Education Program is its outreach and direct service arm. Its goal is to educate streetchildren to protect themselves on the streets while motivating them to give up life on the streets. You can help by volunteering on specific projects or over short-term assignments, making a donation, buying quality handicrafts made by streetchildren, or referring a case if you know of a child who needs help.
563 4647 / email@example.com / http://www.hope.org.ph/
U! Happy Events provides sustainable support and teaches values to marginalized children in the Philippines. It provides a platform for sponsors and volunteers to reach out to beneficiaries through creative and meaningful activities. You can get involved in its different activities for children by choosing from a list of available events and show up to interact and partner with activities. You can also organize your own event with the organization through birthdays, company outreach, and other celebrations. You can also pledge monetary support or goods.
9755276 / 0917-8874278 / firstname.lastname@example.org / http://uhappyevents.com/
“We are a cashless organization.We are not funded by the government. We are not funded by international aid or any support. With this scenario, in my experience, kaya po nating magpakain ng mga gutom sa isang community. Within the community, sila ‘yung magbibigay ng pagkain.”
Indeed, plans are afoot to open similar soup kitchens in Pasay and Manila. Mocha Uson has also partnered with Duterte’s Kitchen for a food truck to go around the metro, serving free food. Other individuals have also expressed interest in putting up their own soup kitchens, replicating the idea. Whether these will eventually bear the Duterte’s Kitchen brand is not important to Dexter. What is important to him is that the hungry are fed.
“Sana it is a channel or avenue na maging unifying force na kung anong kulay ka man, puwedekang mag-volunteer dito or tumulong ka sa pagpuput-up din ng another kitchen with the direction of eliminating hunger. Mawawala ang gutom at matutulog ang bawat isa nang hindi nagugutom,” he adds.
But of course, Dexter is very much aware that by carrying Duterte’s name, the kitchen would always have its share of supporters and detractors. Indeed, Duterte’s name brings on such power that it could inspire fierce, undying loyalty.
When harnessed for the good, it could spring forth heartwarming projects such as Duterte’s Kitchen, a beacon of hope for streetchildren wanting of hot food to warm their bellies and of gentle encouragement to nourish their souls.
When used carelessly, however, it could unleash merciless and unforgiving acts, making orphans out of countless children and sending them out unto the cold, dark street.
May the Lord bless them and keep them and be most gracious upon them.