On Saturday, 6 August, we made our second visit to the A.J. Kalinga Foundation, affiliated with the Society of the Divine Word, that provides meals for “homeless” populations. (See our next post for some discussion of the politics around naming).
As used by the foundation, Kalinga is an acronym for Kain (Eat), Aral (Learn), LIgo (Bathe) NG (a connector word) Ayos (OK). The organization serves two populations–people who live on the streets and the families of people who have been victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK) by police. In addition to providing meals, Kalinga’s hunger action is the gateway to a more intensive residential program designed to move people (right now only men) off the street and into housing and employment.
On our last visit, Kalinga was still in their COVID protocol, delivering boxed meals everyday to 1000 people in three outdoor locations. Since that time, they have completed their renovations and have resumed on-site feeding for 200 adults and children four days a week.
When we arrived at 6 AM, there was already a line of people waiting for food. Moreover, although we had expected to help with cooking, the food was already done. Next time, we’ll need to get there at 4 AM to be part of food preparation,
The workers for the day included two Lasallian brothers (Jordan and Reeni), four formerly unsheltered employees who now live on site (Alan, J.R. Oni, Ritchie), an employee of the foundation (Nirva) and several volunteers (some of whom were participants in the Paghilom program for EJK families).
Prior to opening, this group met for a prayer circle which included a reading from the bible (Mark 9:2-10) and a discussion of some of the themes (this is actually a passage Michael can recall from childhood, about Jesus’ transfiguration before his disciples, when his clothing is made dazzlingly white, whiter than anyone on earth could make them). People in the circle described ways in which the passage spoke to them about overcoming fear and abuse and about their experiences of loving kindness at Kalingas.
The layout of the small space included eight labeled stations: Welcoming, Profiling, Clothing, Bathing, Grooming & Affirmation, Coaching, Meals & Bonding, Sending Off.
While still in line, guests were given laminated numbers. Women and children were shuttled to the front of the line and served first, but those who preferred to eat as full families waited with the men in their group. Thus the first seating was mostly women and children while the rest of the day was mostly men with occasional couples and family groups.
Guests were admitted to the building in groups of 30, seated in three rows of plastic chairs that faced a flat-screen monitor, where they waited, although waiting was not one of the official stations. Guests moved towards the front in an S pattern, sliding over one seat at a time until they were registered.
This is a rough translation:
- If I make a mess, I clean up.
- If I hurt you, I apologize.
- If you do something for me, I give thanks.
- If I have nothing to do, I help others.
- I speak gently and truthfully to others.
During the balance of waiting time, guests were free to watch the television, which played animated versions of Filipino fairy tales. As the first group waiting included many children we thought this programming choice was for them, but it persisted throughout the day.
There were prayers sung with the group present at the start of the day. At noon, everyone in the room (not only the waiting area) stood and faced the television for broadcast prayers.
After registering, guests were offered clean clothing from a stack of items that had been donated and then allowed to enter a gender-segregated shower area. From the showers, guests proceeded to a grooming station.
Next comes (optional) coaching, at a labeled but unnumbered station. On the day of our visit, the theme was care, but we were told the topic varied from one day to the next. Coaching was brief, shared by several different types of staff (brothers, employees, and volunteers), and seemed to usually end in a short group prayer.
Finally, guests presented their laminated cards and were given plates of food which they consumed at tables that could accommodate small groups of 3-6. The meal of the day was rice, menudo (a very different dish from the Mexican stew of the same name), ginisang baguio beans, and a banana compote dessert. We tried a bit of everything and it was very tasty. Although this station was called “eating & bonding,” guests usually could not linger too long because seating was limited.
While it was clear that our help was not definitively needed (and that volunteers were counted on for the operation), we were made to feel both welcome and useful. Throughout, the staff and regular volunteers were extremely solicitous of us, checking often to see if we were “alright”, if we needed a chair, if we needed a break, if we needed to eat, and remarking periodically on our “stamina” and “commitment.” The job we were given was probably the most pleasurable. We were not assigned to wash pots or to sweep the floors (though we can prepared to do whatever we were asked. )
The part we enjoyed the most was the direct interactions with those guests who came back for seconds and thirds, not only because this gave us our only direct interaction with guests but also because it was one of the sites of what we would call a performance of agency–of guests asking specifically for this or that dish, to express liking or disliking bananas, or even to have food placed onto their plate in a particular way (over the rice or separate from it).
At the end of the day we were asked to record a very short statement for the Kalinga facebook page, which was an opportunity for us to express our thanks and appreciation for being included.