San Roque residents cook up community kitchens during wait for 'ayuda'

Geela Garcia - Philstar.com
San Roque residents cook up community kitchens during wait for 'ayuda'
Women of San Roque start their kitchen preparations at 7 a.m.
Photos by Geela Garcia

MANILA Philippines — Two weeks into the Enhanced Community Quarantine that shut down most economic activity in NCR Plus — the area covering Metro Manila and the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan — and aid meant for low-income Filipinos affected by the lockdown has yet to trickle down to them.

The government has promised financial aid of P1,000 per person, at a maximum of P4,000 per household, for those affected. That aid is expected to reach them within the month. 

“We haven’t felt the aid and my husband isn’t earning because there’s no work. We’re left to stare at the walls again,” Sherly Samoro, a resident of Sitio San Roque in Quezon City, laments in Filipino. 

San Roque is an urban poor community along Agham Road and its residents belong to the informal economy, who mostly work as small-scale vendors or construction workers.

Due to the lack of and delay in government assistance, residents there decided to reintroduce “Kusinang Bayan”, a community kitchen put up during last year’s ECQ.

“We were still in the planning of resuming it this year, but when the ECQ was announced, we responded immediately, because the community has nothing to eat again,” Fe Seduco, one of the community leaders, says in Filipino. 

Residents started to volunteer in the kitchen on April 1, exactly a year since the first Kusinang Bayan began. 

Seduco recalls that their community kitchens expanded last year from only three to 25, feeding around 3,000 - 4,000 families a day. 

The dish for Easter Sunday was sauteed cabbage, lettuce and potatoes with a kilo of ground pork.

This year, volunteers quickly established six different community kitchens around San Roque, feeding around 900 - 1,200 families a day, each chapter led either by women or youth. 

Save San Roque Alliance (SSR) said in a press release that the community kitchen program is a “healthy alternative to conventional relief operations that consist of relief packs with canned goods and noodles.” 

With limited donations, the kitchens can only serve sauteed vegetables, but they hope to provide complete rice meals once they have enough funds.

Support for local businesses

At around 10 a.m., the distribution of the meals begins. “Having a community kitchen helps, since we’re able to get free lunch,” says Samoro.  

Aside from providing lunch to community members, the kitchen is also able to support local businesses by buying ingredients from their own community vendors. “Prices here are lower that’s why we don’t find the need to buy outside,” Seduco explains. 

Their meals for the day depend on the donations they receive. Usually, they use vegetables since these are cheaper.

Since it was Easter Sunday, they budgeted P400 to buy ground pork to add more flavor to their meals. 

That day, kilograms of donated vegetables and a kilo of meat fed 157 people at one chapter. “Even if they are not members of KADAMAY or SSR, we give them food,” Seduco says. 

“But at night, it’s up to Batman again, since there’s no aid from the government. It is a good thing our organization and our community watches out for each other,” Samoro adds. 

San Roque residents line up as women distribute meals in one of the kitchens.

During meal distribution, residents assert the need to increase the emergency subsidy to P10,000.

They think the P1,000 per individual for this ECQ is absurd, with some even doubting that it will reach them. 

“What would happen if you’re more than four in a family? Are they telling us the rest will go hungry?” Leizl Manao, who comes from a family of six, laments. 

'Natural to mobilize'

“If we don’t bring our demands to the streets, we won’t receive aid,” the group of volunteers says, recalling the protest that led to the arrest of San Roque 21 and the raid that happened at their community kitchen last year. 

Seduco says that people driven by hunger will naturally mobilize. She added that that is to be expected because people will call for enough subsidies to stay at home as the government says is needed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Seduco reports that intimidation by the police still happens during the second round of ECQ. 

On the first day of their kitchen this year, she says, she noticed that a number of police officers were stationed outside their community, possibly in anticipation of protests. 

“They may be feeling insecure since we’re able to organize activities like this. Before, they questioned us because we didn’t coordinate with the [Department of Social Welfare and Development] for our relief, but if we will just wait for them, we are going to go hungry,” Seduco says. 

Seduco says that their community has a lot of ongoing projects, aside from their Kusinang Bayan, they also participate in their tanimang bayan, where they grow their own vegetables in a shared community garden. 

She said that organizing for different projects can be challenging, but they manage to keep everything running by assigning tasks to each other and assessing each of the projects. 

"Once our vegetables from our community garden are ready for harvest, we will definitely use them in our community kitchen," Seduco adds. 

For now, not knowing when the aid from the government will arrive, and when their husbands can return to work, the women of San Roque are hoping for donations so they can keep serving meals in their community kitchen. 

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