Melissa Grace Olit, a hospitality management professor for 13 years at the Palawan State University (PSU), felt strongly she could contribute to the fight against COVID-19 by opening up her own kitchen to the frontliners and to those who are in dire need.
“One time, pinag-uusapan namin kung ano magagawa ng academic institution sa nangyayari,” she mused in an interview with Palawan News.
She decided to put her skills in creating healthy food to the frontliners who are helping Palawan fight the pandemic, and the needy who are most vulnerable to the disease.
Melissa Grace’s home kitchen in Barangay San Manuel has been producing on a regular basis packed food that is distributed by her friends and other supporters to hospitals, checkpoints, and indigent homes.
Since embarking on the project around two weeks into the current enhanced community quarantine in Puerto Princesa City, Melissa Grace has been producing around 200 packed meals daily, with help from donors including lately private groups.
The Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc. (PSFI) recently tapped her for collaboration. PSFI, in partnership with the University of the Philippines Alumni Association (UPAA) Palawan Chapter, has the “Ani para sa Bayani” project that buys agricultural products from farming communities to prepare meals for frontliners.
“Ang laging challenge kasi sa akin kung paano ka makakapag-create lagi ng food out of kung ano lang meron kasi yon naman ang pagkakakilanlan natin na Pilipino,” she said.
Olit said since the start of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), many food assistance had already been distributed to the barangays.
“Ang daming nagre-relief goods, food packs — parang di lang siya healthy, against sa philosophy ko na lagi ko sinasabi sa mga bata that you have to cook healthy food for your family. Yon ang tinuturo mo so dapat in action, in reality, makikita nila na ginagawa mo para paniwalaan ka ng mga tao na totoo ka sa adbokasiya mo,” she said.
To carry out her advocacy during the first week of the ECQ, Olit said she started visiting hospitals and giving goods to homeless individuals to cheer them up, especially the frontliners whose morale needs to be boosted.
In the third week of the quarantine, she said she wanted to do something that will be beneficial for the community using her skills to come up with healthy food.
“Everyday ang challenge ay wala kang menu plan, wala kang plano kung ilan ang kailangan mo i-prepare. Ang kailangan mo ay masolusyunan mo kung ano ang nangyayari at kung ano meron ang resources mo na hindi magiging tapon dahil mas maraming tao ang hindi nakakakain,” she said.
“Kapag lumabas ka, makikita mo na ang hirap ng laylayan. Doon mo makikita ang mga tao na wala na makakain, iyon ang mas nagpapa-strong sayo na kailangan ko ng maraming ingredients, kailangan ko magpakain ng mas maraming tao,” Olit added.
Birth of Chef Aiza’s Community Kitchen
Olit’s empathy to people who are most in need in the time of COVID-19 is what gave birth to “Chef Aiza’s Community Kitchen”. Aiza is Olit’s nickname.
“Para sa akin, anong silbi bilang isang cook, isang kusinera, isang chef — iisa lang naman lahat yon na sa panahon ng krisis ay hindi ka man lang makapagpakain ng tao,” she said.
Olit said that in the community kitchen, they identify the individuals who are in need of meals and where their areas are to prevent food waste.
She said that they are maximizing the agricultural products from farmers and within their surroundings.
“Ang ano talaga kasi namin ay home cooked kaya minsan sabi nila ay parang naaalala namin yong nanay namin o maririnig mo na naalala namin yong sa bahay namin. Alam mo na kahit papaano ay naiibsan mo yong emotional depression sa nangyayari, medyo kahit paano marami naitutulong,” she said.
She said that she is preparing meals with her sister and friends. In the afternoon, meal packs are delivered by friends and some volunteers.
Olit said PSFI buys the agricultural products from farming communities, while the UPAA supports in packaging materials, and JCI Puerto Princesa Oil helps in linking through their Go Negosyo, delivers and picks up other donations.
“Nong una ay we go with frontliners kasi si Shell ay frontliners ang gusto niya pero yong donation from the friends and others, yon ay papunta yon sa senior, sa homeless, sa stranded habang hindi pa sila naaayos,” she said.
Aside from main meals, her team is also giving immune booster juice out of organic products such as kamote, malunggay, honey, and calamansi to medical frontliners and those who are deployed in checkpoints.
“Ito yong pina-partner namin with JCI kasi ang pinaka-problema namin ay packaging materials kasi medyo mahal. Yon ang kinakalap nila para magbigay ng packaging material. Sa ngayon ay naka-distribute na kami ng 150 pa lang dahil scarcity sa bottle pero may natawagan na kaming supplier na puwede makapagbigay ng bote sa amin,” she said.
Instead of giving sandwiches, they shifted to waffles made out of vegetables such as carrots, ube, and squash, depending on the resources available.
Her team is allocating different meals to their recipients, those deployed in checkpoints received 100 dinner meals, 200 breakfast meals for stranded and homeless, garbage collectors, and senior citizens every day.
She said that they need additional condiments for meals such as eggs and flours for waffles.
“Ang kailangan na lang namin din ay sugar, packaging materials ay yon talaga medyo malaki ang kailangan. Bigas, pwede pa kami tumanggap kasi lack pa kami ng mga four sacks hanggang sa katapusan, sabihin na natin na five sacks pa hanggang katapusan, yon pa ang kailangan punuan pa, mantika, egg,” she said.
“Yong pagluluto, personally ay ako talaga. I mean yon ang talagang promise ko na throughout this crisis ay ipagluluto ko lahat ng frontliners,” she said.
She said anything little from individuals could contribute to creating a bigger help.
Any individuals with a surplus of agricultural products and condiments may reach their group.
“I know everyone ay gustong tumulong, minsan baka akala natin ay nakakatulong pero meron pala tayo naki-create na other problem. Siguro pwede na lang natin na yong individuals na gusto tumulong ay pwede sila humanap ng organization, tingnan nila yong mga programa na pwede nila ibigay,” she said.