Over 1,000 Angeles City indigents from five barangays were the beneficiaries of Tzu Chi Foundation’s rice and relief goods distribution last October 9 at the Brightwoods Sportsfield, in Pandan, Angeles City.
Arriving in three batches, the 1,076 beneficiaries each took home 20-kg rice and two bags containing sugar, salt, cooking oil, vinegar, soy sauce, spaghetti sauce and noodles, cereal, detergent bar, and bath soap.
Jose Pasague was among the first batch of recipients. The former truck driver was diagnosed with gouty arthritis when he developed golf ball-size lumps on his hands, elbows, and feet in 2015. Forced to stop working as the condition hampered his movements, he sold kakanin (Filipino snacks), but eventually gave it up when strict lockdowns due to the pandemic affected his modest sales.
Pasague now depends on his wife, Norlita, who works in a junk shop. “She was very happy, she wanted to come along,” he says of her reaction to the news that they would receive relief goods from Tzu Chi. “What she makes is barely enough for us. Sometimes I don’t even eat anymore. Thank you very much for your help.”
A barangay of Aetas, one of the indigenous tribes the Philippines, was also among those who received rice and grocery items. “Even in a pandemic, you have not forgotten us. Thank you, Tzu Chi Foundation,” says Michael Lundang, tribal chieftain of Sitio Mabilog in Barangay Anupul, Bamban, Tarlac. Like everyone else, the community has been severely affected by the pandemic and its restrictions. Unable to travel to Angeles to sell their produce—ginger, taro, papaya, sweet potato—they rely on assistance from non-government organizations as well as the occasional visits from city folk who purchase their fruits and vegetables.
For the past six years, the Tzu Chi Foundation has been a supportive partner of this barangay of 81 families. According to Lundang, volunteers have trained indigenous farmers to plant fruit-bearing trees. They have also brought rice and relief goods to the community at the height of quarantine measures.
It was Alma Dizon Mercado, barangay captain of Tabun, Angeles City, who contacted Tzu Chi Foundation last year to ask for help, as the pandemic had deprived many in Angeles of their livelihood. When Tzu Chi Philippines CEO Henry Yuñez agreed to extend assistance, local leaders set out to identify beneficiaries.
“Tzu Chi has distributed relief here before, but this time more barangays were included, so more of Angeles’s indigents could receive rice and grocery items. This is a very big blessing for them, especially in this pandemic,” she says.
Apart from offering its spacious grounds as the site for relief distribution, Brightwoods School had its teachers assist beneficiaries and Tzu Chi volunteers. “We’ve had this relationship with Auntie Pansy Ho for a few years now because she’s been a longtime parent of our school,” says Yanta Zubiri, whose mother founded Brightwoods. “A few years ago she got in touch with my mom to talk about potential distributions in Tarlac for Aeta communities there. It’s been really good working with Tzu Chi over the past few years, and we’ve been able to see bigger scale events such as this, which has over 1,000 beneficiaries.”
For volunteer Pansy Ho, who together with her husband Vincent, has been working tirelessly to organize this distribution and other Tzu Chi initiatives, credit goes to the hundreds of participants who came together to ensure the event would go smoothly.
“We really needed a lot of people to make this relief operation possible,” she says. “We had more than 30-40 teachers from the school, 20-30 volunteers, and more than 50 representatives from the barangay. We are very thankful for everyone’s cooperation and for making this rice relief possible.”