Cooking for thousands

By Zena V. Magto |October 15,2018 - 10:58 PM

A volunteer from the local government unit cooks prepared meals at the mobile kitchen set up at Enan Chiong Activity Center. CDN photo/ Tonee Despojo

It has been over two weeks since a massive landslide hit Sitio Tagaytay and Sitio Sindulan in Barangay Tina-an, Naga City, Cebu.

Eleven evacuation centers have since been set up for over 6,913 victims who are awaiting a permanent relocation site which could take government several months.

In the meantime, the thousands of victims try to bring things as close back to normal amid the tragedy.

36-year-old Oscar “Jay-R” dela Calzada, Jr., a resident from the neighboring town of Minglanilla, was among the many who immediately thought of a way to help affected families.

Dela Calzada’s simple idea, brought about by his family’s strong desire to help, has since paved the way for other donors to send aid to landslide victims as well as the days wear on.

Dela Calzada, a Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) and culinary arts graduate is a chef who runs “Cocina Calzada,” a long-running food catering business in Lipata, Minglanilla, which he inherited from his parents.

“It was my mother who contacted me immediately around noon of September 20 and inquired on what we can do,” said dela Calzada of the day the landslide hit their neighboring city of Naga.

He first sent out food packs thinking that it would be the most immediate need of the affected families at the time.

But Dela Calzada noted, soon after, that while there was a surge of donations in the first few days of the disaster, there would be a need to sustain the food needed by the evacuees.

“Imagine, the relocation will be still, like what, six months, and it has only been two weeks. The evacuation centers really need to be sustained,” said dela Calzada.

Fearing that aid might stop coming, dela Calzada took to social media hoping to inspire more people to donate for the landslide-stricken Naga.

The bridge

Dela Calzada said that since then, he has been receiving pledges and he has somehow served as a bridge between the Naga City government and people wanting to help.

Among others, he was able to connect fast-food companies to the local government unit for feeding programs and other donations.

He has also set up a mobile kitchen at Enan Chiong Activity Center (ECAC) where he prepares food for the different evacuation sites.

Dela Calzada told Cebu Daily News that very little of his personal money is spent on preparing the food packs since donors would go as far as donating sacks of vegetables and spices for his feeding program.

“I would post a grocery list online, and then out of nowhere people would contact me and pledge a specific ingredient. One time, I received 150 kilos of chicken, one sack of potatoes, sayote, and spices,” he said.

Donors, some of whom just reached out online, would also give big sums of money for the preparation of the food packs.

Dela Calzada said that the cash donations have reached P200,000, so far.

“Naa ra gyud nay mu contact, ‘Bai, naa ko’y P20,000 ako ipada nimo’ (Some would just contact and say I have P20,000 which I will send to you) and they wouldn’t even ask for a receipt,” Dela Calzada said.

“The trust was overwhelming. Abi nako gamay ra ang ako gi buhat ba, pero grabe (I thought I was just doing a little but I got a lot of response),” he added.

As a way to inspire more donors, he continues to post all his activities online.

On his third day, five volunteer cooks coming from as far as Luzon and Iligan in Mindanao stopped by to help with the operations of the mobile kitchen for at least three days.

The group, who also volunteered in the Itogon, Benguet landslide which happened days earlier, helped him set up a smooth working system for the food preparation.

Dela Calzada was also able to tie up with members of the “Tau Gamma” and “Akrho” fraternities in Minglanilla and Naga.

Instead of loitering at night, the fratmen would visit the mobile kitchen at ECAC to offer assistance.

They help prepare the raw ingredients so the chefs could focus on cooking.

“When you look at them, full of tattoos, you wouldn’t believe nga mu panit, mang hugas diay na sila (they were there to peel vegetables and wash) ,” dela Calzada said proudly.

Dela Calzada and his fellow volunteer cooks prepare chicken pork adobo, scrambled eggs, corned beef with potatoes, meat loaf, giniling with vegetables, tinolang manok, adobong kangkong.

The team has produced more than 5,000 food packs since the landslide.

“It was stressful. We would start to cook at three in the morning, and the kitchen is hot and the pots are huge. But we have to cook continuously,” he said.

Even when he was down with fever for three days, dela Calzada still oversaw the operations of the mobile kitchen, a task that was not new to him as he was used to managing their family’s catering business.

“I know government is very powerful and huge but taking part will still be of big help cause government alone needs all the help they can get,” said dela Calzada who, back in 2013, also helped pack relief goods for relief goods for the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda.

Sustaining the deed

Ever since the tragedy, dela Calzada has touched the hearts of many, although he also gets his share of bashers online who claim that he was doing this for politics as he planned to run in next year’s elections.

“I’m not doing this to run for office, I’m really just a private person. If I wanted to run, I should have connected to Minglanilla, and not in Naga,” was his reply to his bashers.

“Posting online is my way to show to people (who donated) that this is where their money is going. I have to show them that I am really using it. And in that way, I can also inspire others to do the same, because it is not easy for the evacuees,” he further explained.

Dela Calzada continues to receive help from all over Cebu as he assures people that all their donations will reach the Naga evacuees.

“Many people would want to connect with me, since I am a private entity. Most people want help to be delivered right then and there, and they trust that through me, it can be done,” dela Calzada said.

He finds immeasurable joy in knowing that he has made use of his God-given talents to serve others.

“Katong si ate, ni duol siya nako ni ingun, ‘Sir salamat kaayo, wala mi ninyo biya-i,’ (A woman approached me to say thank you very much that you have not left our side). They must have felt that they were alone,” he said.

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