“Next, Nanay Shella!”
A petite woman cheerfully and proudly stands up to claim her ID. Carefully, she gets a lanyard from her apron pocket where three other laminated cards have been grouped together. One is a government identification card, while the two others look almost identical to the one that she just received.
“Pangatlo ko na, oh! Tingan niyo po,” (This is my third ID! Look!), she said as she spread out the identification cards as though they were playing cards. One by one, she placed the cards in the lanyard hook, then hung it around her neck - the cards dangling securely.
Shella goes to the kitchen everyday. That’s 130 days of peeling, cutting, cooking, assembling, packing, serving, feeding, washing, and cleaning. She’s been at it for three years. “It hasn’t always been like that,” she quips in Filipino. During the first year of the feeding program in Holy Spirit Elementary School, she volunteered for just 2-3 hours a day as she had part-time and on-call laundry and cleaning jobs in various houses. Eventually, her hours in the kitchen extended. She now comes at 6:00am, and does not leave until the kitchen closes in the afternoon.
Some don’t understand what prompted her to go full-time in the kitchen as a volunteer and leave her sources of income. “I tell them – it’s for Jojo.” As a mother, she decided to take an active part in a program that she believes contributes to the overall health and well-being of her ten year old son. “This program made Jojo even more active in school! He’s moved up two sections since the program started. Now, he’s aiming for the second! Soon, maybe first section, even,” she happily shares.
Happy might even be an understatement to describe Nanay Shella’s presence in the kitchen. To many, she is a bursting bubble of energy, with so much positivity in life. If she isn’t sharing stories about Jojo, then she’s sharing stories about her seven other children. If not stories of her children, then perhaps her grandchild. If not her blood relations, then she’s busy adopting other volunteers, making them feel as though they were her own, collecting more stories, and sharing more laughter.
“Makulit ako dito, pero pag seryoso na, may respeto at lugar naman ako,” (I’m very playful, but when matters are serious, I show respect and know my place), she explains. For her, the feeding program is a community that nourishes her and her son not just physically but emotionally as well. “Hinding-hindi ka malulungkot dito,” is how she keeps herself and those around her motivated (You’ll never be unhappy here).
Even after Jojo graduates from elementary, Shella intends to stay in the program. “Oo naman, pupunta pa rin ako dito! Sana nga magtuloy itong In-Visible Feeding Program!” (Of course I’ll still go here! I really wish the In-Visible Feeding Program keeps going!). Nanay Shella does not stop where she’s at; her dreams continue to grow farther than where she stands. “Sana paglaki nila Jojo, sasali pa sila sa amin at sila naman mag-aayos sa mga susunod na bata.” (Hopefully, when Jojo and his friends grow older, they can organize programs and help out the new batch of children who will go through feeding).
And as she finished sharing her stories and her dreams, she also finished putting 700 cups of rice in the containers. She proceeds to pack the viand, her IDs bouncing off her chest.