MANILA -- While most people are turning their attention to medical frontliners, a barangay kagawad in Antipolo opted to focus on members of their community who are not getting enough support amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Tj Malvar, a doctor by profession, founded Puso Kitchen in late March as his way of helping people from Barangay Calawis and other remote areas in Antipolo.
It has provided about 13,000 meals and 4,000 food packs to 2,500 families as of writing, with the initiative using cash and in-kind donations from various groups and individuals both in the Philippines and abroad.
"The night the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) was announced, I found myself tossing and turning in bed. I couldn't sleep and found myself wide awake worrying about COVID-19 and the implications of the ECQ in our community," Malvar said in an online interview with ABS-CBN News.
"I have always wanted to start a soup kitchen in our community and finally I felt like it was a very good intervention given the situation," he added, as he kick-started the initiative through a Facebook post.
Puso Kitchen is headquartered on Mount Purro Nature Reserve (MPNR), which is operated by Malvar's family, in Barangay Calawis.
Meals are prepared by Malvar's mother and a skeleton MPNR staff, with assistance also coming from volunteers in the community.
Being a government official, Malvar did not stop at pooling donations and giving them away; his team made sure to get a list of vulnerable members of their community from existing records so they could prioritize them, and made sure they got the number of families right.
"Ang reality kasi is one household is home to more than one family, so nag-decide na families na lang... Ang naging decision din is to give to everyone, but to prioritize talaga 'yung mga walang-wala," he said.
"Talagang ang dami-daming nangangailangan. And each day that passes, mas maraming nagugutom," he added. "'Yung mga may ipon, nauubos na. Nagkakaubusan na rin ng mga tinda sa mga malalayo at liblib na sari-sari stores kaya nagmamahalan na rin ang prices ng goods."
Many residents of Barangay Calawis have also offered to help in their own way, whether by donating freshly baked bread or offering to repack and deliver goods.
Listening to feedback, Malvar said they have been focusing on giving uncooked items such as vegetables and dried fish.
"One of the consistent feedback na nakuha namin is to give away uncooked food na lang, so nakinig talaga kami dito kasi importante talagang pakinggan mo 'yung sinasabi ng tao. So we made the medyo difficult decision to focus on Puso Goods. Going on week 3 na kami," he said.
MORE HELP NEEDED
Malvar happily shared that Puso Kitchen has gotten in-kind support from the likes of Jollibee, Alaska, SM, Coca-Cola, Taters and Panda Express.
He admitted, however, that their resources are not enough to sustain the initiative, especially given the indefinite lockdown period.
"We are having a discussion lately about how we need to stretch our budget to last us 4 to 6 months. Pero 'yung budget namin sa ngayon sakto lang for two months," he said. "Tapos sabi ko, instead of stretching our budget, let's raise more funds and leave no stones unturned."
In the long run, Malvar said they are hoping to go beyond donations and promote self-sufficiency, particularly by empowering people to grow their own food.
He said they have been in touch with government agencies and non-government organizations, and have submitted a request for seeds to the Bureau of Plant Industry.
"We are trying to create a successful model for doing this which can be replicated in other communities. I encourage everyone to consider donating to Puso Kitchen, or even to other similar initiatives who are providing support to low-income communities during this unprecedented crisis. Groups like us really need all the help we can get," Malvar said.
"COVID-19 is a viral infection, but I believe that doing good is even more infectious," he ended.
For more details on how to support the initiative, visit the Puso Kitchen Facebook page.