Brooklyn’s Filipinos Reach Out to the Homeland

Brooklyn’s Filipinos Reach Out to the Homeland
Photo courtesy of Voltaire Tupaz

It has been six days since Typhoon Haiyan wreaked havoc in the Philippines. Brooklyn’s Filipinos are heartsick, worried, and trying to find ways to help.

So far the Philippine government had reported 2,357 dead but, with the corpses still in the street, the toll could reach 10,000. More than nine million Filipinos were affected by the typhoon and a staggering number of families are in desperate need of food, water and, medicine.

Filipinos in Brooklyn who have relatives in provinces that were severely hit, such as Tacloban and Leyte, are worried because they have not heard from their family members. Zara Vinola, a teacher from the Fire Department of New York High School in Brownsville, said her cousins in Leyte are still missing. “It’s devastating and scary, I’m still waiting to hear from my family in Manila to see if they have already reached them,”  Vinola said.

Vinola said her students are raising money. “The first thing that they asked me is that if it’s like Sandy and I said, ‘No it’s worse,’” she said.  The student government is passing around collection jars inside classrooms. The proceeds will go directly to the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, (NAFCON) a national multi-issue alliance of Filipinos in the United States, who then will hand the donations to their counterparts in the affected provinces.

Other Brooklyn residents, workers, and restaurant owners are contributing to the effort.

Chris Hilo, who works at Meltkraft, a grilled cheese shop in Park Slope, said her boss was concerned about the news and asked what the restaurant can do to help. Employees decided that portions of Meltkraft’s drink sales will be donated to the victims. Portions of the shop’s beer and wine sales on Friday will go to NAFCON.

Romy Dorotan who owns the Purple Yam restaurant on Courtelyou Road in Flatbush said he is working with other Filipino restaurant owners in Brooklyn to raise funds. This weekend, proceeds from brunch at the Purple Yam will be donated to the Philippine Red Cross. “I saw the news last Saturday and messages on Facebook and we have to do something,” Dorotan said. He will serve Visayan dishes and delicacies, food from the affected provinces. The brunch costs $40 per person and he is encouraging people to donate more. There will also be an open forum to discuss other ways to help the victims.

Shiela Zagala, a physical therapist at P.S. 81 in Bedford, said she and her friends plan to donate money directly to the affected families. “I have a friend in Leyte who lost her grandparents, three cousins, and an aunt, and I will deposit the money in her account,” she said. Zagala said she fears that the money donated to organizations might not reach the victims. ABS-CBN, a local news organization, reported widespread looting and hijacking of trucks carrying relief goods as people become more desperate.

The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns has been spearheading the fundraising activities in New York. Gary Labao, one of its officials, said the group is disappointed with the way the government is handling the crisis. “We don’t see any substantial results. If it’s two to three days that’s expected, but it’s almost a week already,” he said. Labao is encouraging people in the U.S. to go to to donate. He said they have partners in the affected communities including church groups that are on the ground. Labao ensures the donations will be converted to goods and medical supplies that are immediately needed.

The Philippine Consulate has also called on the Filipino communities living in different states to donate.  A list of ways that people can participate is posted on the Consulate’s website.

“This is a civic duty to respond to a calamity and we are doing this as a community and we are doing this through official channels,” Consul Filepe Carino said. Account numbers of different government agencies, such as the National Risk Reduction Management Council, Philippine Red Cross and Handang Tumulong Foundation (Ready to Help Foundation) are listed on the website.

Filipinos who are still looking for their relatives in the affected provinces can check Google person finder, which was prepared by the Philippine Red Cross.

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