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.

Good Housekeeping (Philippines) - - Real Life -

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.

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