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Across frontiers: Former, current residents team up to aid Iloilo hometown

Since the implementation of the community quarantine policies last March, many households across the country have struggled with the economic fallout caused by the pandemic. The situation in Iloilo is similarly grim, as many villagers try to satiate gaping needs using what little resources they have left; in an effort to obtain sustenance, some have chosen to butcher, instead of sell, their own poultry, while others have begun to harvest produce from their own backyard.

In the province’s urbanized areas, families have to make do with consuming a depleting stock of canned goods. Meanwhile, low-income households get by with support from neighbors and humanitarian groups while waiting for government aid.

Recognizing these persistent issues and unmet basic necessities, former residents of Brgy. Sta. Cruz set up a relief effort last April to give back to the place they once called home. Although they now reside on foreign soil, they were driven to unite with local volunteers and extend a helping hand to other members of the community.

Thinking of home

Fundraisers aimed toward alleviating the devastating consequences of the pandemic have been steadily emerging since the quarantine began, each with their own stories to tell, but all carrying the same heart for service to the community. The Sta. Cruz relief operation was one initiative organized by Filipinos working abroad; this aspect brought a different working dynamic to the process between volunteers and benefactors.

Mia Llerado, one of the relief effort’s proponents and a registered nurse in Las Vegas, United States (US), expresses that her gratitude toward her hometown moved her to start the donation drive. “Life is busy, and [sometimes it’s] easy to forget to show your gratitude for all you’ve been given, [but] Brgy. Sta. Cruz [gave] me a place that I will forever call home,” she professes.

With this goal in mind, Llerado quickly reached out to other overseas relatives and friends who hailed from the same barangay. Maria Junsay, a designer and creator for the Romo Group stationed in Ohio, US, was one of such to have answered the call. She relays, “While we were also staying at home due to the lockdown [in America], I [knew] that I [could] still do something to help through fundraising.”

Once Llerado and Junsay were able to get in touch with other donors and benefactors, they immediately set to work contacting the on-ground volunteers at Brgy. Sta. Cruz, Iloilo, who were in charge of buying, packing, and distributing the goods for hundreds of beneficiaries.

“[Since] I was home due to lockdown, I got [the] chance to concentrate on sending messages to prospective donors,” Junsay notes. Transcending borders, the communication between the volunteers and the benefactors was made easier through the use of Facebook and Messenger.

Both Llerado and Junsay were keen to point out that the fundraiser was only made possible through the efficient use of social media by the organizers and the eager help of the locals.

A fulfilling mess

Yellow plastic bags are sprawled across the floor, turning the living room into a golden sea as countless pairs of hands tirelessly repack, recheck, and redistribute the assortment of relief goods from one station to the next. A house once imbued with silence and stillness now buzzes with chatter as volunteers sort through the remaining packages for the Sta. Cruz relief operation.

“The house was a mess, like a typhoon just struck the place, but it was well worth the mess,” describes Vicente Aguirre in Hiligaynon—Iloilo’s local language—as he recalls their operations. Aguirre was one of the many local volunteers that contributed to the success of the relief effort.

To cover all the indigent households in the area, the relief operation took place on four separate days, donating an estimated total of 850 relief packages to families in the area. The packages included over two kilos of rice, canned goods and other food products, and toiletries like soap to account for a household’s basic necessities.

Despite the restrictions brought about by the quarantine, many volunteers showed up to support the cause, their enthusiasm and dedication helping to speed up the process of preparing relief packages. “At least in this way, I could serve others even [if it’s] a small thing, and [that] makes me happy,” shares Mariel Sola, another volunteer.

Although communication between the benefactors and volunteers went smoothly, problems on-ground at Sta. Cruz itself inevitably arose. For one, the resources could not cover everyone in the village, Aguirre explains, leading to certain households lamenting about the “unfair” or disproportionate distribution of packages.

“Since we focused on providing the relief goods to those who were most in need, the higher-income families regrettably did not receive any relief goods,” he discloses in Hiligaynon. Far from being deterred, however, the volunteers instead rose to the challenge with more vigor to help their fellow kababayan.

The relief operation may be an impermanent solution, but it has helped alleviate the distress brought by the pandemic upon the lives of everyone, especially for the disadvantaged households in Brgy. Sta. Cruz. “The relief operation really helped [the beneficiaries]; they were extremely grateful for the aid that they received,” Aguirre remarks in Hiligaynon.

Unity despite distance

The donor-volunteer dynamic is a crucial aspect in any relief operation; the effort would have fallen through if one group was missing or had failed to fulfill their designated tasks. Each group plays distinct roles that complement and complete the whole process. This partnership ensures that no responsibilities overlap, allowing for a more comprehensive perspective and approach to adequately meet the needs of the beneficiaries.

Despite being halfway across the world from their motherland, Llerado, Junsay, and the other benefactors, working hand-in-hand with the on-ground volunteers in the community, were able to bring the spirit of bayanihan to Brgy. Sta. Cruz. The relief operation would not have been successful without the passion of former and current Sta. Cruz residents, proving that projects committed with hard work and sincerity cannot be weakened by distance.

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