Anyone dropping by the Bayanihan Community Centre on Blanshard Street on a Tuesday afternoon would usually find a locked door.
The cultural home of the Victoria Filipino Canadian Association has thrown open its doors to accept donations for disaster relief in the horrific aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, which rolled over the Philippine islands last weekend and has left tens of thousands of residents homeless or injured and at least 2,000 dead.
Orlando Tuapin, a native Filipino and a congregation member at Central Baptist Church, is at the centre to find out how his church can help raise funds.
“I know my family is safe,” he said, having spoke to his mother who lives on the northern island of Luzon, earlier in the day. That area received heavy rain and moderate winds, but didn’t feel the storm’s fury the way southern islands did.
He teared up as he described seeing news reports showing the devastation in some areas of the tiny country.
“People are scattered like chickens over the ground. You feel helpless. We’re all humans.”
Adding to the misery of residents there, he said, an area of central Philippines heavily damaged by the storm was just picking itself up after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake rocked the region. “They probably think it’s the end of the world.”
Laila Pires, association president, is at the Bayanihan centre with other volunteer board members to help facilitate donations. She was there in a meeting last Friday when news of the storm reached them.
“We were quite shocked at the gravity of the situation,” she said. “A lot of people were trying to contact family and couldn’t (reach them),” she said. “That’s hell, having to wait.”
An estimated 5,000 Filipinos live in the Greater Victoria area, she said, including more than 1,000 caregivers who are living here alone, away from their families back home, under temporary status.
As the extent of the damage continues to unfold on the ground, churches around the region and other groups have been organizing emergency fundraisers; car washes, bake sales and other events, to do whatever they can to help. The outpouring of generosity has been a great consolation to the Filipino community, Pires said.
Association board member Leonor Santos said cash or cheques are the best donation item at the moment, since they are easily transferable to the Canadian Red Cross, which is co-ordinating efforts with the International Red Cross on the ground in the Philippines.
“We’re not in a rush to send material items. It takes a month or more to ship anything there,” she said.
As of mid-week, roughly $5 million had been raised by the Canadian Red Cross in Canada.
Carly Milloy, annual appeal manager for the Victoria office, said local residents were quick to respond to the crisis. She echoed the statement that cash donations are best.
“Right now they need food and shelter and money is what pays for those things and puts those together on the ground,” she said.
A special Filipino dinner is being held tonight (Nov. 15) at the Bayanihan Centre, 1709 Blanshard St. Tickets are $10 and doors open at 5 p.m.
Proceeds from the regular Sunday noon lunch ($7 a plate) will also go toward the fundraising effort.