The Mt. Pinatubo Calamity Fund of Glendale got off to a tentative start last week with a goal of $100,000 and a balance of $500 in its checking account.
By early this week, the campaign seemed to get into stride as goods began to pile up at the designated spot, the Glendale Adventist Medical Center Thrift Store, and Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre convened a meeting Wednesday morning to bring in Filipinos living in the Eagle Rock area.
But the operation remained thin on two fronts: cash and cardboard boxes.
Though more widely identified with other ethnic groups, Glendale is home to about 8,000 Filipinos. Neighboring Eagle Rock has a more visible Filipino community with stores and restaurants along Eagle Rock Boulevard.
A handful of the area's Filipino business people launched a local fund Thursday evening in a bittersweet session at which they found it necessary to grapple at the same time with the force of nature and the legacy of the Marcos regime.
They assembled for a press conference in the offices of a small bank on North Central Avenue. A poster, drawn up by hand, depicted a flaming eruption of Mt. Pinatubo with a dollar thermometer at its side, graduated to $100,000.
When the cameras began to roll, David E. Rubin, senior vice president of American International Bank, said that, in addition to being host to the meeting, his bank would make an opening donation of $500.
"Hopefully, this will be a catalyst for greater effort," he said.
It was hardly a rehearsed event. Marlene Cagatao, a Glendale realtor and president of the Filipino Business Committee of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, asked each person around the room to contribute ideas.
Melba Solidum Lim, representing the Philippine consul general in Los Angeles, read a formal statement on the gravity of the emergency. She asked that cash donations be sent to the consulate and second-hand goods to the Car Emporium in Los Angeles.
Several others in the room quickly questioned whether the government could be counted on to make quick and equitable distribution of their donations.
Lim briefly countered, saying the government would give receipts for the delivery of all donations. But almost everyone preferred to seek a private agency such as Kiwanis or Rotary to handle distribution in the Philippines.
The meeting seemed to drift until a bearded, gray-haired man in a beige suit walked briskly into the room, smiling broadly. He was almost immediately asked to speak.
Peter Donton introduced himself as director of the thrift store. His confidence seemed to solidify the group with optimism and purpose.
"We could give you 10,000 pieces of clothing in our warehouse if we are willing to join our hands together," Donton said. "We could rally a lot of volunteer support."
Donton spoke from experience. He, too, is a Philippine native. He said his thrift store makes regular shipments of donated goods to the Philippines. He listed the practical considerations.
"We have to get a container," he said. "Who will pay for the shipment? A container costs $3,000 to ship to the Philippines."
He recommended, and it was agreed by voice consensus, to transfer any money and supplies through a private agency with government help to get the shipment through customs. The recipient would be selected at a future meeting. Donton's thrift store would be the collection and distribution station for all Glendale relief efforts.
"Just say it's from the Philippines and I'll send my truck," he said.
By Tuesday, the word had got out.
Food and clothing had begun arriving at the loading dock outside the thrift store. Donton, in jeans and a checkered shirt, supervised volunteers who packed clothing in cardboard boxes.
In midafternoon, Marilyn Borg walked in the door, bearing a donation from her husband Donald's medical practice.
"I have a heart monitor that still works," she said. "I'd like to donate it to the Philippines."
Donton lifted it out of her car.
The flow of goods remains moderate. Donton said he could handle much more.
"I have all the mechanisms to do it," he said. "I have the manpower. We know how to do it as long as I have boxes."
For the moment, the volunteers are packing goods into second-hand boxes salvaged from hospital shipments.
They're of limited supply and various sizes, making the packing of a container more difficult. Donton said he could use 400 of standard size.
In contrast to the supplies coming in, the needs of the Philippine volcano victims are almost limitless.
The word from home, he said, is that almost everything has been demolished in a three-city area of about 2 million people.
"They are sleeping in the streets," he said. "This guy told me they are like ants."
The mission, therefore, is to ship the greatest possible quantities of clothing, blankets, tents, books and medical supplies. As time goes on, there will be a need for the basic tools of commerce such as typewriters.
Bring manuals, he advised. For now, the word from the Philippines is: "Don't send us electric."