Hunger is a major problem in the Philippines, which worsened last year when the global pandemic hit the nation, on prolonged periods of unemployment and loss of income as a result of government lockdowns.
The number of people going hungry reached a record high during the pandemic, according to Social Weather Stations. In the last quarter of 2020, SWS findings show that 16 percent of the population, or an estimated 4 million families, experienced involuntary hunger at least once, or double the pre-pandemic levels of 8.8 percent in December 2019.
Nearly one-third of families—or 7.6 million households—did not have enough food to eat at least once in the previous three months, SWS September 2020 survey showed. Among them were 2.2 million families experiencing “severe hunger”—the highest ever.
It was during these times that non-government organizations such as Rise Against Hunger in the Philippines stepped up to mobilize its staff and volunteers from their corporate partners to assist in packing meals and deliver food to various communities nationwide.
RAH Philippines is a member of the Global Confederation of Rise Against Hunger with headquarters in North Carolina, USA and offices in South Africa, Italy, India, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Prior to the pandemic, a large number of the population in the country already lacked enough food to feed their families.
According to a Food and Agriculture Organization report, about 59 million people were “moderately or severely food insecure” between 2017 and 2019—the highest in Southeast Asia.
End hunger by 2030
It is due to this condition that RAH Philippines executive director Jomar Fleras said that RAH’s main focus is to end hunger by 2030, which is part of the global commitment of Sustainable Development Goal #2.
Fleras, a University of the Philippines graduate and a fellow of the Harvard School of Public Health, University of Southern California, and National University of Singapore, has worked in several projects funded by the United States Agency for International Development, Australian Agency for International Development, PATH, European Union and UNFPA. He has managed projects in the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Indonesia.
He said RAH is anchoring its efforts on four pillars: feeding program through food banking, empowering communities by helping them start community gardens, disaster relief operations during emergencies, and working with volunteers to pack fortified rice meals for hunger relief operations.
RAH meals support transformational development and disaster response programs. A large percent these meals go to areas affected by natural disasters. The organization fosters relationships among its network of partners to mobilize the most amount of relief aid possible in the shortest amount of time.
The organization also facilitates shipments of donated products when available such as medical supplies, and provides thousands of nutritious meals and other life-saving aid to children and families in the Philippines.
To expedite the delivery of food packs in target communities, RAH maintains the first and only food bank in the country. It has foodbanks in Cebu, Bacolod, Tondo, and Taguig, as well as ‘virtual’ foodbanks in Laguna, Isabela, Iloilo, Bukidnon, and Davao.
“We are a member of the Global FoodBanking Network and founding member of the Association of Asian Food Banks,” Fleras said.
It is through these food banks or soup kitchens/pantries where RAH collect and store contributions from donors and pack the goods before they distribute them.
“We collect twice a day from different companies, and we distribute them at least three times a week in communities in Metro Manila, such as Tondo. We also distribute at least twice a month, as far as north as Isabela and down south as Davao,” Fleras said.
Partners are key
RAH relies on their corporate partners, particularly in working with volunteers since they only have 15 regular staff. To effectively reach out to poor communities in the south, they also collaborate with local government units and NGOs.
RAH adopted as its raison d’etre to link up with partners/donors such as San Miguel Corp., Japan Tobacco International Philippines, RFM Corp., Dole Fresh Philippines, Century Pacific Foods, Lazada, Globe Telecom, McDonald’s Philippines, British School Manila, JPMorgan Chase and Monde Nissin for food distribution and disaster relief operations.
“For example, we partner with San Miguel Corp., which has warehouses nationwide; they alert us if they have food donation in areas like Cagayan de Oro; we then contact and coordinate with our NGO partner in Bukidnon called ‘Binhi’, for virtual food banking,” Fleras said.
“There’s no reason to collect food in CDO and bring them back to Manila, there are also people who are hungry in Bukidnon,” he explained.
The impact of the virus on hunger has been exacerbated by a series of typhoons that have pummeled the country in recent months, destroying tens of thousands of homes.
This is where RAH was pleased to partner with JTI Philippines for its food distribution and disaster relief operations.
“We did a huge project with them last Christmas distributing rice bags and other goods to people affected by super typhoon Rolly,” he said.
Fleras considered it a milestone to organize and distribute rice in 49 different areas in less than two months.
“With JTI’s help, we were able to go out to 49 locations, distribute and turnover the goods from up north to down south despite travel restrictions; it is a record considering there is a pandemic and it was Christmas time,” Fleras said.
The partnership with JTI also benefited about 1.5 million individuals who received rice and relief goods, with more than 400,000 families nationwide as recipients.
“We’re able to reach them through the assistance of JTI’s network in the country,” Fleras said.
“We had a good collaboration with JTI because it’s not a partnership that we write you a check and that’s it. JTI helped us in the distribution, procurement and there’s always open communication between us,” Fleras said.
Fleras also praised JTI’s team bravery in meeting with them face-to-face. “Some donors that we had during the pandemic were too scared to meet with us. We’re not scared to meet face-to-face, because when we distribute foods we cannot do it virtually, we have to do it personally. JTI was one of the very few partners/donors who were brave enough to do face-to-face meetings with us,” Fleras said.
JTI’s offices in various locations, like in Marikina, were also used by RAH to distribute relief goods during calamities last year.
JTI Philippines managing director John Freda said: “I’m very pleased with our partnership with RAH and I am impressed with the commitment of both our teams to help the needy. We look forward to future collaboration with them in providing assistance to the underprivileged sectors.”
Community farm project
RAH is now working with JTI on a community garden program to empower communities.
The initial plan was to set up a community farm in Western Bicutan in Taguig, but they had difficulty searching for a suitable land to start the community farm where people can plant vegetables, harvest the produce as their food, and improve their livelihood.
Fleras said talks are now under way the head of the Task Force Yolanda, to negotiate and transfer the community farm project in the Yolanda-affected areas in Leyte.
Making a difference
RAH has more than 50 corporate partners representing multi-sectoral and different industries such as food manufacturing companies, business process outsourcing, online business, as well as small coffee shop operator, and even a dance teacher who donated her savings to help out.
“It doesn’t matter how big or small you are; we felt everyone found a way to pitch in, allowing us to serve over a million individuals last year alone,” Fleras said.
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