“Santuario de San Antonio Yolanda Relief Ops” by Simon Villalon

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The call for volunteers came out on November 9, the day after Yolanda struck our shores. Pictures and videos had just started to trickle in after communications were restored to the hard hit provinces, and it became clear that our community had to do something. By mid-morning of that day the donations were coming in, and by the afternoon we had word that there was a shipment that could take our donations to Leyte later that evening. We were off to the races.

The succeeding days saw more of the same as the community came to life to share hope in a hopeless place. Volunteers spent hours throughout the day packing, carrying, sorting, and organizing the tons of goods that have been translated into thousands of relief bags and hundreds of clothes sacks to be deployed.

And deployed they have been. First to Tacloban, then to Ormoc, then Capiz, Aklan, Cebu, Iloilo and Villamor Air Base. In total, the team has sent out close to 15,000 bags of goods, 250 sacks of clothes, and thousands of liters of water. Apart from the doses of medicines and other assorted items that have also been sent out to medical missions and other relief operations.

Unlike other relief operations in the past, the challenges for this one are unique – as a volunteer organization most people could only join the team later in the day, so while donations were received by the Parish Center staff all day, we officially started packing and loading operations at 530PM and routinely ended days past 11PM. The transportation has also been challenging, whereas in the past the deployments were done around Metro Manila and the nearby provinces by truck and handled by the Youth of San Antonio, the distance between our parish and the affected areas requires us to work with logistics experts who can guarantee safe delivery to the people on the ground.

But despite the uphill battle and the long road ahead, the volunteers have remained positive and encouraged. The energy in the parish center rooms is infectiously positive and the smiles on people’s faces as they go about their tasks lifts the spirits. We’ve had children pushing boxes from room to room, expats taking time off from their busy schedules to work on the line, balik-bayans who liked back to their friends abroad to solicit donations, teenagers boxing relief packs for hours, and, for the first time in our relief operations history, an honest-to-goodness bridal shower. The outpouring of support was phenomenal.

All of this is made possible through of the generosity of our community – thank you to everyone who has shared their time, their expertise, their resources, and of themselves to make this possible. God bless you all!