A Community Cooks: How Jollibee Group’s Community Kitchen helped Taal evacuees rebuild their lives, one meal at a time
Life took a drastic turn for Sherlyn Villanueva, 36, and Edwina Bilo, 50, after the volcano’s sudden eruption in January. Both were residents of lakeside communities in Taal, Batangas. Before the disaster, Sherlyn was a full-time housewife while Edwina tended to her fish cages, her family’s source of income. Today, they are residents of an interim shelter in Brgy. Talaibon, Ibaan, Batangas, which houses around 500 families who are unable to return to their homes located within Taal Volcano’s permanent danger zone. While rebuilding their own lives and that of their families’, they have also volunteered at the FoodAID Community Kitchen in Brgy. Talaibon.
The Community Kitchen, set up by Jollibee Group Foundation (JGF), the Provincial Local Government Unit of Batangas and its Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO), provided much-needed sustenance to the residents. Operated by volunteers from the displaced families, and supported by the Anihan Technical School and Bangko Kabayan, the Kitchen produced fresh, hot meals twice a day for almost 500 families.
A day in the Community Kitchen kicked off at 9 a.m., with around 20 volunteers assuming their posts in the assembly line to measure ingredients, prepare, and cook them in time for lunch. The flurry of activities restarted in the afternoon, as the volunteers returned to cook dinner.
The Community Kitchen is a confluence of expertise and dedication. Aside from the kitchen design, equipment, and system of operation, JGF also purchased the ingredients for the 30-day menu cycle resulting in more than 18,000 meals served over three weeks. Part of the funds came from the donation of customers through the coinbanks located in Jollibee, Greenwich, Chowking, Red Ribbon, Burger King, Mang Inasal, Highlands Coffee, and PHO24 stores across the country, as well as in MerryMart Grocery and Islas Pinas.
Meanwhile, Anihan Technical School, an academic institution promoting lifelong development for women, fielded two faculty and several students to train volunteers on kitchen processes and food safety standards. The provincial government, in turn, provided counterpart funds to set up the kitchen and oversaw the management of both shelter and kitchen. Beyond this, the kitchen’s daily operations were largely driven by community volunteers like Edwina and Sherlyn.
For these volunteers, the project has given the community more than two meals per day. For one, both of them are grateful for their newfound skills in food safety, meal planning, and food preparation. Most of all, they have also seen the transformation of the community as a result of regaining their dignity.
“Mas maayos na ang mga tao, lahat nakukuha na sa magandang pakikipag-usap. Mas disiplinado na rin sila. Dati nag-uunahan pagdating ng pagkain. Ngayon, alam na nila kung kailan at saan sila kukuha, at lahat nabibigyan,” said Sherlyn.
JGF turned over the Kitchen to the provincial government on March 7, which has fully assumed management of the facility. Batangas Governor Hermilando I. Mandanas has lauded JGF for its “sincere compassion and desire to help.” He recognized JGF as among Taal’s heroes for firmly standing up and showing Batangueños the embodiment of the province’s mantra, “Batangas Magiting.”
The PSWDO is all set to continue supporting the Community Kitchen. The partnership may be short but it was extremely meaningful, said Adelia Macaraig, Social Welfare Officer 4 and Program Division head of the PSWDO.
“This is our first time to partner with JGF, and in the short time that we worked together, the project was able to teach us leadership. It taught us how to maximize all resources and mobilize people, and it brought together volunteers and beneficiaries in the name of teamwork. This is definitely something that we can replicate in our future projects,” said Macaraig.
Once the current circumstances normalize, the PSWDO is looking to scale up the kitchen operations and offer livelihood opportunities for the shelter’s residents. While this means the Community Kitchen may soon see busier days, the volunteers and the PSWDO are likely to remain unfazed. With a kitchen, a system, and trained volunteers, they have everything they need to pull it through.
“Buti na lang may Jollibee,” Macaraig concluded.