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Southern California Filipinos organize typhoon relief efforts

With the death toll estimated at up to 10,000, immigrants in the Southland raise funds and collect supplies for survivors while trying to contact relatives back home.

November 10, 2013|By Marisa Gerber
  • The Rev. Nestor Gerente of Grace United Methodist Church in Long Beach, second from right, addresses a meeting of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns on Sunday.
The Rev. Nestor Gerente of Grace United Methodist Church in Long Beach,… (Christina House / For The…)

After a Sunday sermon tailored for the occasion, members of the congregation at Filipino Christian Church in Westlake gave each other hugs and whispered the question they weren't sure they wanted the answer to: "Have you heard from your family yet?"

Then congregant Ely Obillo made a plea for her homeland.

"Don't forget to send some emails," she said, encouraging everyone to contact their friends to help collect donations for victims of Typhoon Haiyan. "Do some begging. Begging is OK right now."

The church held a rummage sale Saturday and an emergency meeting Sunday to discuss other fundraising options. They weren't alone.

As images of the island country in ruin were broadcast around the world and with death toll estimates as high as 10,000, Filipinos across Southern California rallied over the weekend to raise money to send home. In one instance, they expanded a charity event already scheduled for victims of the magnitude-7.2 earthquake that hit the country last month.

More than 300 people gathered in Van Nuys early Sunday for a 5K walk sponsored by the Philippine Disaster Relief Organization. The event was scheduled before Haiyan hit, but the nonprofit plans to donate about $7,000 — and several boxes of canned goods that participants brought — to survivors of the earthquake and the typhoon.

"Southern California is home to the largest population of Filipinos outside of the Philippines," said Bing De La Vega, president of the relief organization and husband of Hellen Barber De La Vega, consul general for the Philippines in Los Angeles. "We're one big family."

More than 300,000 Filipinos live in the region.

Bing De La Vega, a Filipino immigrant, sighed as he reflected on Haiyan and its devastation, of seeing his homeland repeatedly fractured by such natural disasters.

"The Philippines has been bearing the brunt," he said. "It has become a barrier reef for all these typhoons."

In Long Beach — home to a large pocket of immigrants — the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns held a news conference Sunday to raise awareness and money for the relief effort.

For Alex Montances, the alliance's regional coordinator for Southern California, the typhoon's devastation was personal.

The last news he got from the city of Tacloban on hardest-hit Leyte Island, where his mother grew up, is that the storm had ripped the roof from his uncle's home. For a while his relatives were posting updates on Facebook. Then, they stopped.

"We lost contact with Tacloban," he said. "At this point we're not even sure how to contact my cousins. It's really crazy."

He's been busy putting together the fundraising event, he said, but when he stops for a moment his mind races — with images of the Christmas he spent in Tacloban when he was 12 and with memories of the small airport and the houses pieced together with scraps of wood, sheet metal and brick.

"I'm pretty worried," he said. "Not all of the houses are completely safe."

Back at Filipino Christian Church, Lura Henderson stared at a map of the Philippines on her phone. She zoomed in on her hometown — Cebu City, where a fishing port building collapsed during October's earthquake — and shook her head.

Across the room, her two young daughters shuffled from table to table carrying a small collection basket. A man dropped in a $5 bill, and another put in a folded check. The girls spotted a woman rummaging through her purse and paused in front of her.

"Is this for you?" the woman asked jokingly, as she pointed at the basket.

"No," one of the girls responded, "it's for the Philippines."

marisa.gerber@latimes.com

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