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Power to the people: A look into COVID-19 donation efforts

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we look toward those who are not as privileged as us who may have food on our plates and a roof above our heads, and to the frontliners who tirelessly sacrifice themselves for the rest of society. In times of crisis, organizations and individuals try to extend a helping hand through launching donation efforts to support those in need.

Organizing such initiatives involves finding ways to garner support from donors and ensure that the aid gets delivered to the target beneficiaries—aspects like logistics arising as additional complications, especially with the limited mobility and transportation during the lockdown.

Call to action

“I believe that when you have the means to help people who are in need, you should help them,” says Shawn Francisco. Her fundraising effort focuses on promoting local art, while using the funds gathered to aid those in need. Meanwhile, Rus dela Cruz notes that his family’s donation drive was a way for them to pay their employees in their bag making business, while donating their produced personal protective equipment (PPE) sets to health workers.

These donation drives serve as evidence of how one spark is often all it takes to make a difference.

Social media, especially, is a powerful tool in the success of these efforts—a common factor in both dela Cruz and Francisco’s initiatives. Since the dela Cruz family already owned a bag making business, producing the PPEs was not a problem, but they needed to find a pattern for a functional PPE. 

Dela Cruz found help early on through Industrial Design student Hashia, who reached out to him and sent him a design taken from a Facebook group called Manila Protective Gear Sewing Club. “[The group] works together with the Office of the Vice President,” dela Cruz adds. 

Francisco was also a witness to the power of social media and influencers. As someone who works in music production in the local indie music scene, she maximized her network of contacts. “Since I work mostly with bands in the [local] scene, I tried reaching out to them to help us promote the drive,” she says. 

Having been able to partner with celebrities such as Nadine Lustre and Lola Amour, Francisco expresses her gratitude, “Honestly, the amount of support we received was huge and was very helpful. Artists who use their platforms to help are really amazing, and we appreciate it so much.”

Bumps in the road

On a global scale, COVID-19 has greatly impacted supply chains, making it difficult for countries to acquire enough medical supplies for their health workers. The Philippines is no different.

While raising money in the midst of a pandemic may already seem like a gargantuan task, sourcing the needed supplies only adds to the difficulty. Francisco shares that looking for relief goods to distribute was their “number one problem” since they had “very limited options on how to get supplies” amid the Enhanced Community Quarantine measures.

Dela Cruz recounts a similar experience, saying, “We had this roadblock from the start na mahihirapan kami with logistics, kasi with the lockdown, it’s hard to go around [within] Bulacan itself—let alone [moving from] Bulacan to Manila.”

(We had trouble with the logistics.)

Even with logistical constraints and other restrictions, both dela Cruz and Francisco shouldered on, determined to see their goal through. The latter comments, “We totally understand why these restrictions were applied, but these restrictions were not a hindrance [for] us [to] give help.” Instead of giving up or feeling discouraged, Francisco and her team chose to carry on, putting in twice the work to gather resources and search for suppliers.

In the same way, dela Cruz and his team managed to surpass the initial difficulties.  “We’re [going to] deliver 650 [PPE] suits to Metro Manila and Rizal. [On another day], we will deliver here in Bulacan,” he states.

Of politics and privilege

There is, however, the matter of the bigger picture. Beyond the romanticized bayanihan culture is a deeply flawed system that leaves plenty of Filipinos behind. As a result, most donation drives that have stepped up during the crisis rely largely on personal initiatives—for those with means to use their privilege in aiding those with less. This is something that dela Cruz acknowledges, sharing that his family’s available capital and ownership of a factory definitely made the manufacturing of the PPEs easier. 

“I’m really happy that the Philippines is a very active and vibrant civil society, but if you analyze it, it is just a response to the inefficiency of the national government,” says dela Cruz, further citing that doctors and hospitals around the country are barely staying afloat amid the crisis. 

As Filipinos become branded as “heroic” and “resilient” in these times, the bigger picture demands the question of why it was necessary for us to be subjected to such onerous circumstances in the first place. 

“Messed up ang buong politics natin. It’s frustrating. Pero if we let that get in the way, paano naman ang health workers natin na need ng support?” Francisco points out. 

(Our politics is messed up. It’s frustrating. But if we let that get in the way, what will become of the health workers who need our support?)

Dela Cruz similarly notes how online allegations of hospital donation raids implicating a senator proved to be an obstacle to their drive. Nevertheless, they persisted—though for how long the private sector can sustain these initiatives before donor fatigue sets in, remains a looming question as the crisis continues. 

The fact that we are relying on solutions hinged on charity instead of efficient government action poses an inevitable truth about these initiatives’ longevity: they can’t do this forever. With confirmed cases rising and resources dwindling, we are far from being out of the woods. For dela Cruz, the problems we face as a country go well beyond the pandemic. “Bayanihan is good, but we need systemic solutions,” he asserts.

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