Chicago helps with aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan
By Aurora Lucas and Noah Levitin
Dead bodies still lay around the city of Tacloban days after Typhoon Haiyan hit and left the Philippines in devastation. Eleven million have been affected by the strongest storm recorded in history, and 600,000 people have been displaced.
The Jose Rizal Filipino Center, located in the Irving Park neighborhood of Chicago, is attempting to help those affected.
The entire world watched through their TV screens, and social media feeds as entire villages were swept away by 20-40 foot waves and winds blowing up to 250 mph left a catastrophic aftermath.
To this day, more than 2,000 people have been recorded dead, and the death toll continues to rise.
Those who survived are in desperate need of food, clean drinking water and medical help.
Hundreds of volunteers have come by the center to help in any way they can for the past few days.
“The people who died are the lucky ones,” said Ray Borja, one of the founders in the Jose Rizal Typhoon relief. “Their suffering ended the moment their lives were gone. Those who are living are now living in a catastrophe of the wake of the typhoon.”
The Jose Rizal Filipino Center has become a symbol for relief for not only Chicago residents, but for those wanting to help around the country, as well.
The Filipino Center has never seen anything in its history than what it has seen in the past few days.
“We started playing with the visions of what we could create,” Borja said. “We were just ordinary, simple guys. Then, our ideas just started to morph and develop, and we thought, hey, why don’t we get boxes, pack it up with stuff, then let it go.”
With the media circulating graphic photographs of dead bodies in streets, families torn apart and buildings destroyed, members of the center felt that there was something they needed to do.
“We still had to ask, ‘How are we going to get it to the Philippines?'” Borja said. “And the only way we were going to get it to the Philippines was by boat. That would take 60 to 90 days. By the time it gets to the Philippines, it’s going to sit in a port and sit there for another 60 days. How would we get the most important basic stuff as fast as possible? And so we started making calls.”
Borja described making those calls as the six degrees of separation.
“We know somebody who knows somebody that could get us a C130 plane and who could ship the stuff at ground zero,” he said.
With a C130 plane, it meant that the most vital items like food and medicine could get there in a few days instead of months. It meant that it would get there immediately instead of sitting in a port or a distribution center.
A simple idea was able to morph into a unity, as some volunteers would call it.
Five hours from when they started the conversation of what they could do to help, the idea came from four people, to eight, and then to 16. Then they started putting social media into the equation, and from there it has blown into something they couldn’t imagine.
“The idea just exploded from there, and now, this is what we have,” Borja said.
On Nov. 12, there were an estimated 1,300 boxes filled up with donations. Less than 24 hours later, 4,300 boxes had been packed. On Nov. 14, more than 6,000 boxes had been packed and ready to go to the Philippines.
All donations and work to pack it in boxes were completely from volunteers who decided to dedicate their time and money to helping those suffering in the aftermath that Typhoon Haiyan left.
Jesse White and Governor Pat Quinn visited the Haiyan relief site to show their support.
“Messages are going around so fast that people around the country are calling to ask how we could do this, and how they could do the same thing,” Borja said. “It’s been an amazing ride. We have donations coming from different states, schools having donation drives. People are going to stores and buying cases and cases of food items.”
The process inspired others to help, as well.
“After watching so many news stories about the typhoon, I felt so useless,” said Ella Palomo, a volunteer. “Donating money to the big organizations didn’t seem like enough. So I started looking for other ways to help and look for volunteering events. Then, on Facebook I saw a status about the Rizal Center, and that’s when I asked a friend to come with me. Social media definitely had a huge [role in] getting the word out.”
Borja recalled how other volunteers and supporters got involved.
“The cashier lady asked if the purchase was for a donation,” Borja explained. “The guy said, ‘Yes, it’s for the relief of the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines.’ The entire store heard it, and they started contributing cans and money. They bought stuff, and all of a sudden from a stack, he was able to fill up his entire truck.”
There were people coming from all walks of life to help in whatever they could.
“The amount of love and support that people have shown is incredible,” Borja said. “We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring.”
Apple Umali, another co-founder of the event, talked about the support the center received.
“In history, the biggest difference that people have made aren’t from official organizations,” Umali explained. ” It’s people coming together, going for it without any hesitation. So what do they expect us to do? If we need papers, we will do it along the way, but our priority was becoming hands-on with all of the donations coming through.”
A group of four people turned into hundreds who wanted to become involved in something bigger, in helping the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.
The movement has been covered by ABC, WGN, The Huffington Post, Chicago Pride and Telemundo.
The Jose Rizal Filipino Center is located on 1332 W. Irving Park Road. To contact the center about volunteering, call 773-281-1210. All posts about the relief efforts are being tagged as #helpforhaiyanchicago.