FOOD FOR A LIFETIME
After seeing kids eat from a trash can, Benjie Abad found his life’s mission: to provide meals for the hungry and the homeless.
IN THE ABAD HOUSEHOLD, IN A GATED QUEZON CITY VILLAGE, people are busy preparing hot meals. It’s almost dinnertime—not for the Abad family, but for the neighborhood’s have-nots.
Welcome to the headquarters of Karinderia ni Mang Urot (KMU), a soup kitchen that feeds the hungry every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening.
Mang Urot is Benjie Abad, 50, a former entrepreneur and call center employee who set up the soup kitchen in 2012 after he came across two kids eating chicken beside a garbage can. “I assumed na yung manok na kinakain nila, kinuha nila sa basurahan,” he recalls. “Nagalit ako, kasi hindi dapat kumakain ng galing sa basurahan ang Pilipino. I decided na magtayo ng isang mesa, weekly, na magpapakain sa mga homeless at street children. I made a pledge to God to feed the hungry until the day I die.”
KMU began with Benjie and one of his four kids. At the time, his wife Jeanette wasn’t too keen on the idea because the family was struggling financially. “Eventually naman, naging supportive na yung buong pamilya,” Benjie says. The soup kitchen was a family affair for around four months. Eventually, helpers and supporters poured in.
When he started his soup kitchen, Benjie was hesitant to post about it on social media. He didn’t want it to seem like a moneymaking project. Relatives eventually convinced him to share it on Facebook, so he had to come up with a name. “Naisip ko, ang soup kitchen, parang karinderia, pero kung ‘Karinderia ni Benjie,’ walang dating,” he says. He remembered that he had a Facebook account under the name Mang Urot, “kasi nang-uurot lang ako du’n,” he says. “So ginawa kong Karinderia ni Mang Urot. Naging catchy naman, though hindi ko naman kasi inisip na sisikat siya. All I wanted to do was to feed the hungry.”
True enough, there’s nothing pompous about Benjie’s soup kitchen. When we get to the feeding venue—the parking lot of a bank along Quezon Avenue, just a short walk from the Abad residence—scores of people have already gathered. Kids run around while men and women sit on the sidewalk, waiting quietly as the volunteers set up long tables, ladle rice and viand into bowls, and lay out juice packets. Among the crowd is Jessie, 52, who has been eating at KMU for five years. “Kahit wala kang pera, nakakakain ka,” he says. “Lahat, nakakakain. Busog lahat.”
When everything is ready, Jessie and the other diners fall in line in an orderly manner. Benjie’s family prepares enough food to feed 70 to 80 people. “’Pag nagprepare for eighty, tapos forty lang yung dumating, e ’di balik sila nang balik. ’Pag may sobra, pwede nila iuwi,” he says.
KMU isn’t limited to three feedings a week. “’Pag hindi feeding day—monday to Thursday—they can knock on our door,” Benjie says. “Hindi naman kasi pwedeng mabait ka lang pag Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. My home is open to the needy 24/7.”
That’s not just lip service. Besides being the soup kitchen HQ, the Abad residence is also home to the Kasilyas ni Mang Urot, built for the poor who have no access to bathing facilities; Kanlungan ni Mang Urot, a shelter for the elderly with no place to sleep; and Klassroom ni Mang Urot, which aims to restore values education among the wayward youth who eat at the Karinderia.
Benjie’s group has donated school supplies, vitamins, and slippers to nearly 17 public schools in the country. From time to time, the Klinika ni Mang Urot also opens, if there are volunteer doctors and dentists.
Just like his soup kitchen, Benjie comes across as unassuming. “Lumalabas sa media coverage, parang ang bait-bait ko, eh hindi naman. I’m a regular guy. Maloko din ako. I just hate seeing people suffer. Ayaw ko lang na may nagugutom at walang matulugan, o kaya inaapi.”
He plans to make good on his lifelong vow to feed the hungry. “The easiest way to serve God is to serve the hungry,” he says. “Every day, maglagay ka lang ng isang biskwit sa bag mo. ’Pag naglalakad ka at may madaanan kang walang makain, bigyan mo. Eh magkano lang ang biskwit, P6? With a budget of only P180 for a month, andami mo nang matutulungan.” Volunteer at Karinderia ni Mang Urot through ivolunteer Philippines (ivolunteer. com.ph), or join the Karinderia ni Mang Urot Facebook group (facebook.com/ groups/445984505441041).
“You don’t have to do great things to help people. You just have to have the heart and the resolve to help,” says Benjie, a.k.a. Mang Urot.