After the devastating typhoon struck the Philippines, Jennifer Biyabos, of Lakewood, Wash., started accounting for her family.
“Four of my aunts and their families, they all live there,” Biyabos said. “They all survived.”
Their homes were damaged and her elderly aunts are struggling with injuries and health issues. But the main sorrow is that one of Biyabos’ nephews in Tacloban City remains missing.
“He’s a college student,” she said fighting back tears. “If he’s still alive, he should be able to find his way home. So, that’s sad.”
Biyabos, who grew up in the Philippines, was at the Filipino Community Center of Seattle Thursday, as the group prepared for a benefit dinner on Friday night. Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Maria Cantwell and Seattle Mayor-elect Ed Murray are scheduled to attend.
The event was originally planned as a benefit for an earthquake that hit the Philippines on Oct. 15. Then, Typhoon Haiyan – one of the deadliest typhoons on record – struck on Nov. 8th. The death toll has now climbed beyond 4,000 and millions more people have been left injured or homeless.
“We just want to make sure that they’re not going to get forgotten,” said Shiela Burrus, Executive Director of the Filipino Community of Seattle.
This disaster hit close to home for many in the Northwest, since the Seattle area has the 10th largest Filipino community in the US.
Burrus says the center has stayed open additional hours as donations pour in. A hallway is stacked to the ceiling with boxes of medical supplies and donated clothing. Another room overflows with tarps, personal hygiene items, noodles, rice and canned food.
The organization plans to fill a 20-foot container to ship to the Philippines, in addition to the cash donations it’s funneling to Filipino agencies and relief groups.
“I don’t have family there but just seeing somebody begging for food or dead bodies still lying on the ground – it’s just heartbreaking,” Burrus said. “I think the community responded with kindness and love and just compassion and bringing in whatever they can to help.”
Dolly Castillo, former president of Filipino Community of Seattle, was also at the community center Thursday for a senior luncheon. She said her relatives in the Philippines were unaffected, but she’s still heartsick about the devastation.
“I feel bad about it,” Castillo said. “It’s my country. It’s my people.”
Burros said Filipinos from across western Washington have flocked to the center since the disaster struck to seek comfort, get help locating loved ones and to watch a live feed of news from the Philippines hooked up to the center’s TV.
Biyabos said she’s grateful to see the community come together and the outpouring of support. She’s struggled to find her own way to help since she’d like to go in person, but believes money is more necessary.
Biyabos’ 6-year-old son has never met his relatives on Leyte Island, which bore the brunt of the typhoon. But he’s offered to give up a few Christmas gifts, and the little bit of money saved in his wallet to help out.