May 29, 2024

No one was prepared for the serious effects of Covid-19 on all aspects of life when the enhanced community quarantine was declared. The thought of the total lockdown was impossible. It was hard to imagine that our homes would truly be our refuge against this biological enemy. But God works in mysterious ways and provides a menu that many have helped Him arrange.

The Community Kitchen in La Trinidad, Benguet went viral in the early days of the lockdown.

Forty-year-old entrepreneur Elmer Macalingay, who is behind the five Health 100 and 101 Restoreants has inspired the lunch service to the frontline health and checkpoint workers for the La Trinidad area and later the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center.

He and his wife, Dr. Celestrell May Oras – Macalingay, have decided to embark on the voluntary food service to empty their pantry by selling their newly-stocked supplies to their staff and later to other residents. The remaining inventory was used to prepare food at Km.5 Health 101 shop and the drop off site for food donations. The spouses decided to allow their 150 employees to go on quarantine since many lived in distant parts of Baguio City and La Trinidad but invited five volunteers to do the cooking and to stay-in the Km. 5 restaurant.

Elmer says that his wife was the one who thought of the health and sanitation protocol. Not only did the cooks have to stay put but no one was allowed into the facility. The pans had to be made of stainless steel because the virus can’t thrive in them. This had also become their request that hospitals and groups bring their own containers for safety and also to spare the cost of individual canisters.  A window was where people received the food packs or the door would open for the pick-up of boxes of food packs for the checkpoints and hospital staff. Donations were brought to the door and left there for the cooking team to bring into the kitchen to prevent contamination and infection.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others,(Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV))” is what Elmer cites as the success of the Community Kitchen that has been feeding frontline workers for almost two weeks.

His call for donations were met unselfishly by farmers and businessmen of La Trinidad and Baguio City. He said the menu was dependent on the daily available stocks that have not waned. At one time, he asked for whitebeans and lowland vegetables for a change from the upland varieties. He was surprised to receive sacks of beans and a large quantity of malunggay leaves that paired well for the next menu. He has received chicken and tilapia donations too, amid the ban of vehicles into La Trinidad. He has shared the donations with other organizations who ask for food to share too. He says these are perishables and must be used and not allowed to rot.

The municipality of La Trinidad has asked the couple how long they intend to open the free service of their kitchen, Elmer said, “as long as there are ingredients, we will keep cooking.” Although this meant yesterday as of this press time.

But Elmer, a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, feels so blessed that he continues to receive cash donations too from near and far. He says that he just prays that he be given the energy to go on and serve the people. He looks to God as his guide and provider after he generously gave his employees a full end-of-the month salary and personal loans for the duration of the quarantine.

He notes that among the volunteers is Masako “Matia” Okada, a former Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer in La Union, who serves as fresh vegetables salad master in the group. A coffee expert and owner of Kape Bantay Café, she concocts the dressings that make the salads different each day. After she closed her shop for the Covid-19 quarantine, she offered to help the Community Kitchen by organizing the whiteboard schedule and menu for the team. She works with chefs – Denmar Evasco and Carlos Leo Leganio. The assistants for the last two weeks included: Allakel Jhikaye Paguirigan, and Heide Wanawan. This week has Sidney Abelao, Kemuel Mabiasen, and Arvin Rhaye Pesoyen with Heide on call.

As God has set His menu from His different children in his own mysterious ways in this challenging times, Dr. Celestrell says, “Giving is as contagious as the Corona virus.” (with photos from Elmer Macalingay)