Her 891,000 followers on Facebook and 213,000 subscribers on YouTube absolutely admire her. She’s “madiskarte sa buhay,” they say. “Walang kaplastikan,” they add. “Napakasipag at napakatiyaga.” And “matulungin sa kapwa.” Armed with gloves and rain boots, a phone camera and flash light, she takes her viewers to her dumpster diving adventures in the US. Her name is Rona Meloche, or as her fans know her, Inday Roning.
It’s amazing what she finds on her night trips (or to put it another way, it’s shocking what Americans discard): a wide array of grocery items, from fresh produce to canned goods and chocolates, personal and home care items, over-the-counter supplements, clothing and jewelry, furniture and so much more.
Initially, she would only randomly check neighborhood trash piles and get usable items. “Yung mga tao dito, hindi nila ‘yan kinukuha. Ako lang yata, Filipino,” she says.
But since January of this year, she and her friend Abby (of Ai French YouTube Channel) have taken their “raket” to the next level—they’ve been rummaging the garbage piles of big grocery, department, and retailer stores around Florida, USA.
Since starting her vlog, Rona has raffled off a total 11 balikbayan boxes containing valuable items to her followers back home—clothes, body massagers, cold compress, masks, gloves, isolation gowns, hair brushes, soaps, shampoo, lotion, toys etc. “Di ko na maalala sa dami,” she says.
She and her friend Abby are often at the dumpsters by 9PM, an hour after the grocery stores and supermarkets close. Rona says it’s very common in the US to just throw anything away. “Dito kasi ma-damage, magka-dent or mapunit lang ang box dini-dispose na nila.”
But Rona makes sure that when it’s food, she picks only items that are still fresh and in good condition. “The other day, nakakuha ako ng sausages and ground turkey. Presko pa talaga sya,” she shares. She’s extra careful taking food items and other consumables since she feeds them to her family and shares them with friends. “Ayaw ko namang mapahamak sila so I need to be educated about these things,” she says.
The Filipina previously told PEP that her family is able to save an equivalent of about P75,000 on food expenses from her dumpster diving. “You cannot imagine kung gaano kalaking tulong nito sa amin,” she tells ANCX. Because of this, she’s able to send money to her relatives in the Philippines.
She serves some of her pickings on her own dining table, and shows her audiences how she cleans them first (thanks to a bit of water and baking soda) before serving them, or preparing them as a meal. In her channel, Rona also shows how she and her husband enjoy their dinners—Chris is often quiet, their daughter Christiana is usually munching on a lot of greens, and the ilaw ng tahanan usually eats kamayan-style, with one foot planted on the chair, entertaining not only her household but an imagined audience on her camera phone.
Rona was born in Cagayan de Oro. But when her parents separated, her mother brought then one-year-old Rona to Negros Oriental to be cared for by her Lola Matilde. When baby Rona turned two, her mother decided to try her luck in Manila, and ended up working as a househelp. The kid and her grandmother would later move to Bukidnon where she would spend most of her teenage years.
Life in the province was not easy. “Ang ikinabubuhay namin sa probinsya ay pagsasaka. Ang kinakain namin ay yung pinagpaguran namin sa farm. Lahat itinatanim namin—tubo, niyog, gulay—dinadala sa palengke para kahit paano magkaroon ng pera. Marami din kaming mga alagang hayop gaya ng baboy, baka, kambing.” When typhoons strike, however, it’s hard to put food on the table. “Pag malakas ang ulan, walang maani kaya wala ding makain.”
Because life was tough, Rona had to grow up fast. “Papagalitan kami ng mga pinsan ko pag maglaro kami. Kasi dapat unahin ang trabaho. E ang trabaho wala naman katapusan. So limitado talaga ang enjoyment,” recalls the Bukidnon native.
Her mother’s meager earnings helped send Rona to school (she had to walk a few hours to reach it everyday). “Pahinto-hinto ako ng pag-aaral kasi hindi naman laging healthy ang katawan ng nanay ko,” she recalls. There were times when the dutiful daughter would work as a helper herself, in order to make ends meet. Thankfully, she was able to finish her Commerce degree at the San Isidro College in Malaybalay.
Rona wanted to gain work experience first before trying it out abroad—but she had no luck with job applications. And then at the age of 20, she met an American who would become her pen pal. The guy was 35 years older. “Nagpunta sya sa Pilipinas ng three times,” recalls Rona. “Nagkamabutihan kami. Hanggang sa naging interesado na syang dalhin ako dito sa America.”
The Filipina arrived in the US in 2009. She was 22. “Inosenteng inosente pa talaga ako noon. Yung tipong first time pa lang nakasakay ng airplane—ganoon kainosente,” she tells ANCX. “Naglakas-loob lang talaga ako kasi gusto ko naman yung buhay na nakakain ko ang gusto ko, nagagawa ko ang gusto ko. Kinailangan kong maging strong.”
She married the American but the relationship entailed major adjustments. “Talagang nahirapan ako noong umpisa, lalo na sa lenggwahe. Hindi ko maintindihan ang slang, tapos English pa,” says Rona. “Nahihirapan din silang intindihin ako, lalo na ang salita ko ay Cebuanong Cebuano ang tono.”
The marriage was fine in the beginning. But she later realized she married an alcoholic. She was also single-handedly putting food on the table and paying the bills. “Parang napapagod na ata siya. Gusto na nyang mag-retire,” Rona recalls of her husband at that time. She was willing to put up with the situation but she couldn’t stand the drinking. He never hurt her physically but the situation was stressing her out mentally and emotionally. She couldn’t rest after a long day’s work because he was noisy when drunk. “Hanggang nasabi ko sa sarili ko, itong buhay na ito wala talagang patutunguhan kasi palagi naman syang umiinom.”
Hiding the drinks from her husband once resulted in a big fight. He left home for several months and stayed with his family and two kids in Tennessee. But when he asked for forgiveness, and for a second chance, Rona’s compassion prevailed. “Nag-usap kami. ‘Ano ba talaga ang plano natin sa buhay? Magsasama pa ba tayo? Dapat magkaintindihan tayo. Suportahan kita, suportahan mo din ako. Hindi yung puro ako lang nagtatrabaho sa bahay.’”
Their situation got better but only for half a year. The American went back to his old ways. “Madami din akong responsibilidad sa Pilipinas. Kaya ako nagtatrabaho sa America para matulungan ko ang pamilya ko doon. Kung pwede lang na i-multiply ko ang sarili ko para mas marami pa akong matrabaho, gagawin ko,” Rona tells ANCX, recalling that difficult period. “Ayoko ng ganitong buhay na ako lahat ang nagbabayad, siya nasa bahay lang. Tapos uuwi ako, lasing sya. Naii-stress ako ba. Hindi alam ng pamilya ko sa Pilipinas ang mga problema ko dito kasi ayoko ding mag-alala sila.”
At this point, Rona’s voice starts to break and she holds back her tears.
She decided to file for divorce, which resulted in a totally different level of stress altogether. She prepared all the required paperwork and saved up to pay for the attorney’s fees. “Nag-usap naman kami na I’m not after anything—for example, money. I just want to be with myself,” says Rona. “I can work for the money. Gusto ko lang peaceful ang life ko.”
She was only on her fourth year in the US then and her green card was still on conditional status. She knew she could be sent home to the Philippines anytime. “Mabait naman ang ex-husband ko kasi he admitted na sya ang may problema,” Rona shares. “Pwede niyang hindi i-continue ang green card ko. Pero sabi nya sa akin, hindi kita dinala sa US na ang ending babalik ka din sa Pilipinas.”
Their divorce was finalized in 2013.
The divorce brought pain and heartbreak. But it allowed the Pinay to recalibrate her life, equip herself with new skills. She learned to drive. She focused all her attention on her jobs. She was working as a saleslady and all-around stockroom assistant by day, and as waitress by night. When she’s not working those two jobs, she worked as a housecleaner.
Rona is grateful to her Filipina friend Airil for helping her out when she needed support. “Kami lang kasi ang magkausap palagi. Kasi friend ko na sya sa Pilipinas pa lang.” Airil also married an American.
Rona met her now husband Chris via an online dating site. She says she chose Chris because he lived only 30 minutes away from her place of residence. They got to know each other thru chat. It took months before she decided to meet him in person. After her divorce, she had become extra careful. “Natakot na kasi ako e. Kailangan wala talagang bisyo—sigarilyo, inom,” she says.
Their first meeting happened on a winter. He visited her at home. “Maganda ang suot kong damit para ma-impress ko ba sya,” she recalls the moment, giggling. She served Filipino food which she herself cooked. This was followed with visits to the restaurant she was working in. Chris would also visit her in the restaurant she was working in. He would even bring his father for a meal. “Doon sila kumakain,” recalls Rona. “Ako ang nagsisilbi sa kanila.”
Taking it to the next level
Rona and Chris dated for three years before she agreed to marry him in 2018. “Nakikita ko kasi na very hardworking sya at may goal sa buhay. Importante yun sa akin,” says Rona, thoughtfully. “Tapos wala talagang bisyo. At saka mabait talaga sya. Religious, palasimba.”
She thought they were a good match. To begin with, they both want to have kids. She’s observed that some Americans prefer not to have children. “Nakita ko din na maasikaso siya sa mga bata—sa mga anak ng cousin niya—so I know he’ll be a good father,” says Rona. Chris also likes nature—he likes going to parks and zoos. And he likes fishing, which is something Rona enjoys too. “Noong hindi ko pa nami-meet si Chris, ang pastime ko talaga ay mag-fishing. Kung wala akong work sa gabi, nangingisda ako,” the Filipina shares.
What made her appreciate Chris even more is his respect for the Filipino culture and way of life. “Yung mga Amerikano, ayaw nila sa amoy ng food natin. Meron tayong mga exotic foods like balut, bagoong,” Rona says. “Nirerespeto nya ang mga pagkain natin, kaya nagustuhan ko sya.”
Like Rona, Chris is also practical and prudent when it comes to spending. “Hindi sya yung bili dito, gastos doon. Sabi ko: ito na talaga ang taong hindi ako papahirapan sa pinansyal. Hindi rin naman ako [financially] dependent, kasi nag-wowork din ako. Hindi ako yung pahingi-hingi. I work hard to earn my money,” she says.
The birth of Inday Roning
Rona started vlogging on her eighth month of pregnancy with their first child Christiana, now two years old. Since she was on maternity break, she wanted something to keep her busy. She started vlogging about her pregnancy journey. Sometimes, she would go live on Facebook, which was her way of connecting with fellow Filipinos.
It was only in January this year that Rona began vlogging about dumpster diving. On her YouTube Channel, she wrote that she hates seeing a lot of food being wasted, so she rescues them—either for her family’s consumption or to be donated to the needy. Some of her haul gets fed to animals, or used as organic fertilizer for her garden.
It’s been 12 years since she started her life in the US. What she says allowed her to overcome life’s challenges in those years is her Filipino fighting spirit. “Masipag tayong mga Filipino. Magaling humanap ng paraan, ng diskarte. Hindi namimili ng trabaho,” she says. “Masinop tayo, hindi basta nagtatapon ng mga bagay at pagkain.”
Life was tough back home in the Philippines, but life can be tough anywhere else.“Dito, you do everything yourself. Kaya kailangan lakasan mo ang loob mo,” Rona says. She may be 9,000 miles away from the place she grew up in but everything she learned in Bukidnon she’s taken with her. One has to be hardworking, independent, resourceful, and strong no matter the land one ends up standing in.
Photos courtesy of Rona Meloche