Crafting Hope for Filipino Families
- Maida C. Pineda () - December 29, 2002 - 12:00am
In the middle of Quezon City’s residential area, a four-storey white building recently emerged, towering over its smaller Roces Avenue neighbors. While it is not the tallest building on the street, my mother and I marveled at how Papelmeroti, a small craft shop in an old house, bloomed into an impressive building.

One afternoon, my curiosity drove me to check out Books For Less. I found good quality books and magazines at a fraction of the price at regular outlets. On a Tuesday, I treated my brother to lunch at Café Papemelroti. We enjoyed pasta and sandwiches, but were thrilled to discover a source for delicious homemade whole wheat bread, tasting just like our mom’s. Being surrounded by Papemelroti artworks hanging on the walls and chairs each bearing a meticulously handwritten quotation cheered up my weary and stressed-out soul that day.

Bringing my high school best friend Ava along on another day to buy more of the homemade bread, we found ourselves staring through the glass window of Papemelroti. Unable to resist, we stepped inside to be reunited with the same stationary, notebooks, trinkets and gifts we gave each other over a decade ago. Handling their products and the presence of crafts with Bible passages, environmental themes and all things beautiful, my spirit was again lifted up. The positive energy in Papemelroti is so tangible. I was curious to meet the family responsible for creating this idyllic world of kindness, simplicity and beauty.

Joining a family for a meal can be daunting and uncomfortable for outsiders. It was not the case though the Monday when I met the Alejandro family for the first time and joined them for lunch. Somewhere between my first sip of dalandan juice and my initial bite into the homemade Garden Pizza in the Papelmeroti Café in Roces Avenue, I felt right at home.

I sat at the head of the table with daddy Benny to my left and mommy Corit to my right. The siblings who make up the name Papemelroti–Patsy, Peggy, Meldy, and their spouses, Robert, Tina and Isabel, Meldy’s five-year old daughter–were all at the long table, too.

The meal began with Robert prodding his eldest ate, Patsy, to say grace so we could all dig in the tempting plates of pasta, pizza and salad whipped up by her good cook of a husband, Luigi. There was no awkward silence, only animated conversation, a lot of reminiscing, and infectious laughter.

While most executives gather together at Monday meetings to discuss the pressing problems and upcoming projects of their companies, this family had time to leisurely share stories about each other. With Christmas just a few days away and the busiest time in their ten stores, it is a surprise to see the family responsible for Papemelroti so laid back and relaxed. Even at their office the mood is very casual, with the young children of Patsy, Peggy and Meldy bringing in their toys to play.

But it has always been this way. Since the family matriarch started the business in 1967 with a small shop along Tomas Morato Avenue selling little crafts she made while raising her five children, family always comes first. Starting out as a hobby for this young architecture graduate and housewife, the business emerged from her joy in creating something out of things people usually throw away: dried flowers, scraps of cloth, twigs and leaves, used Clorox bottles, toilet paper rolls and egg shells.

The business had always been a family affair. While mom made crafts, dad made wooden furniture and the kids had their own little duties. Corit and her husband Benny taught their children the value of money and hard work at an early age by asking all five siblings to help out in the shop during summers.

Robert recalls being tasked with antiquing the crafts to make them look old when he was but five years old. Earning one centavo per item, the young Robert worked hard to make ten pieces, enough to buy him candy from the corner store. But at the end of the day, even the young artist looked antiqued, practically black all over. They all laugh at this now, but during those days the kids were not too thrilled with their little tasks. But they learned to value each other’s company and help each other out.

To say the Alejandros are a close-knit family is an understatement. They grew up doing everything together: The family would sit around a table at sculpting sessions, forming animals out of clay, making decoupage, drawing or making plaques. Patsy and Peggy burst out laughing remembering how much fun the five siblings had as kids.

One Halloween they created a haunted house for Robert and Tina. But they did such a good job that their two youngest siblings refused to even enter the door, terribly frightened and in tears. They went to great lengths to mount song and dance production numbers complete with costumes, all for their most supportive audience–their mom and dad.

All the years mounting those projects seem to have been good practice for working together in running their business. While their parents never forced them to work for the family business, Patsy, Peggy, Meldy and Tina were all drawn on their own to the business; Robert, a noted illustrator and Probe Team reporter, contributes as much as he can as a consultant.

When Meldy graduated from college, she dreamt of becoming a certified yuppie–working in Makati, riding the Love Bus and wearing business suits. She wanted to quit working in the family business, but overhearing a conversation between a mother and daughter in their store changed her mind. The mother showed the figurine she had given to her husband, which was inscribed with the words "Work for the Lord, the pay is not much but the retirement plan is out of this world". The small decorative item changed his life. It turned out Meldy made this figurine, and at that moment she realized God meant her to work and make a difference through her family’s business.

For this family of genuine kind-hearted artists, making a difference means not merely creating and selling products with a message. They print newsletters indicating ways to improve the earth, instilling national pride and becoming better Christians. Their most concrete commitment in making a difference is by being honest in paying their taxes in all their stores and businesses.

There are also little anecdotes that bring smiles to their face. When mom Corit started narrating the story of their pet duck, Pasty and Peggy immediately chimed in. Robert, being quite adept at doing interviews, begged them to stop. Noting the many tangents this interview had taken, he felt sorry for me, the interviewer. I stared at my notes, surprised to see an almost blank page. But my heart was filled: Meeting the Alejandros was pure joy for me.

These days, it is rare to find a family still intact and not distanced by the great diaspora of Filipinos migrating or going off to work in other countries. Even fewer families harmoniously work together to achieve a shared goal, especially as noble a goal as making a difference. Filipino families who put God and family life before all other things are scarce. Getting to know the family behind Papemelroti, a Filipino family of talented professionals all still residing in the Philippines, propagating Christian, environmental and positive Filipino values and loving each other so deeply filled me with so much hope.

This time of the year, families separated by distance and/or circumstance once again come together to share in holiday celebrations. Perhaps more families will take the cue from the Alejandro family: By putting God first and spending more time with their family, maybe our world will be as bright and cheerful as the drawings at Papemelroti.

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