‘Tulog, kain, ligo, laba:’ QC cafe gives homeless ‘fighting chance’ vs COVID-19
Who has a sink and who doesn’t? Who has a faucet and access to clean water?
Washing hands has become essential as a basic protective measure against COVID-19 but to some people, it was simply not possible, at least where they live—out in the streets.
“You know, all of your stations talk about washing hands and being clean, but then, we thought, well, what if we don’t have a sink? What if you don’t have a faucet, you don’t have running water? How can you wash your hands, how can you be clean?”
Those were thoughts that Camille Dowling Ibanes expressed aloud just as she decided to close her coffee shop, Popburri Cafe in East Kamias, Quezon City, to turn it into a shelter for the homeless who are having difficulty finding food to eat, much less running water and soap to wash their hands and protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
The temporary shelter, actually Ibanes’ garage, opened its doors on Thursday (March 19), taking in nine people who needed a place where they can eat, sleep for the night, take a shower and wash their clothes.
“We went around our community, we had about nine people last night and the biggest thing, I think, people don’t understand is they just want a shower. A shower,” Ibanes told INQUIRER.net. “We take it for granted because we have homes… Showering is not a luxury for a lot of people, but for them, it is a luxury.”
The shelter is open daily from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and will run until April 12. They serve dinner and breakfast, and on its first night, rolled out Mexican chicken, rice, melon, bangus and popsicles for its guests.
“They have to go out in the morning and work, so mangangalakal sila and they [assemble] barbed wire,” she said, using the Filipino word for scavenging. “They still do their work, but as much as possible, if we can give them a safe place to stay and a meal to keep their immune system up, you know, we all may have a shot.”
A chain effect of help
The public’s response to the shelter was nothing short of surprising for Ibanes, especially after it inspired others in her community, some of whom her very own customers, to reach out and help.
Customers and neighbors have donated cooked food for the guests, others mattresses for sleeping, toiletries, as well as cash. Their village councilors have also been supportive of the initiative and are helping out with the medical needs of the guests.
“It’s generous because of everyone. We see [the] work as just a catalyst, but the people that keep it going, our neighbors, they’re our customers and they’re the people that are sharing. We’re just [a] starting gun,” she said.
Ibanes and her team have been taking preventive measures in serving their guests, although she admits it could get quite difficult due to the limited space in her garage.
The garage only has one full bathroom and a hose, so people would have to wait and take turns in using the facilities. Ibanes’ friends also plan to open their homes’ gates to allow more space for the beds.
“Of course, their families are also in danger so we have to put measures in,” she added. “We have ethanol, foot washing, we have masks, we have PPEs, we disinfect, we have separate plates for everybody, and those are things we really have to put in place.”
“We just have faith that these times, they require us to really hunker down on our way of life and, you know, what we call our standard of living and just be simple about it and [give] as much as we can serve…” she said. “We only have one community, so it’s important to do our part and I think if people see us doing our part, they will also do their part and the thought, really, is just let’s give everyone a fighting chance.”
On Thursday night, Ibanes expects more guests would be arriving. How many they are, she isn’t quite sure, but whether they’re zero or twenty, what she does know is she and her friends will continue to serve—warm chicken lugaw, and more, await those who walk in.
“No matter what, whoever’s here, whether it’s zero or twenty, we will serve,” she said. “So it will be what it is, and it will be what the Lord wanted, so we’re not worried.”
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