Bishop Jose Alan V. Dialogo was just about to celebrate his third month at the Diocese of Sorsogon when the community quarantine was imposed due to the spread of COVID-19.
About one in every five families in Sorsogon lived below the poverty line, according to a report from the Philippine Statistics Authority. But Bishop Alan already knew this even before transferring to the diocese, as he too, was a native Bicolano, hailing from Camarines Norte. He felt compelled to help his parishioners and their communities because the pandemic and the lockdowns were not only a threat to the health of these communities, but also their livelihoods and food sources.
Using the equipment he brought with him, Bishop Alan decided to start baking bread to be distributed to those who needed it in community. From about 6 in the morning to past 6 at night, he started baking about 1,500 pieces of bread everyday with the help of some church personnel, nuns, and other volunteers.
“Nagkainteres ako sa pagbe-bake dahil sa Foundation—dati, nagbe-bake kami para sa fundraising (I got interested in baking because of the Foundation—we used to bake to help raise funds),” explains Bishop Alan, referring to the Manto Nin Pagkamoot (Mantle of Love) Children’s Foundation, Inc., a foundation he helped establish for underprivileged children. But this time, instead of feeding only orphan children, Bishop Alan’s initiative would help feed the entire province of Sorsogon.
Multiplication of bread
When Fr. Rowan, also from the diocese, heard about the bishop’s initiative, he reached out to his friends and family for support. Soon enough, someone from his network was able to connect Fr. Rowan to the Jollibee Group.
The Jollibee Group sent 484 sacks of flour, eggs, and margarine to the diocese. This was part of its FoodAID Program wherein the group commited to donate a total of P220 million-worth of food to frontliners and communities in need all over the Philippines.
“Noong nakita ng obispo ko na ang ide-deliver ng Jollibee Group Foundation ay nasa 484 sacks of flour, parang kinabahan s’ya. Sabi n’ya, ‘Paano ko ibe-bake lahat ito—hindi ko kaya!’ (When my bishop saw that the Jollibee Group was willing to deliver 484 sacks of flour, he seemed nervous. He said, “How could I possibly use up all of these?’,” recalls Fr. Rowan.
The Diocese enlisted the help of 44 bakeries and 14 parishes around Sorsogon to help them make use of the Jollibee Group’s donations, as well as in distributing them directly to the communities.
Under the Bread of Life Program, the Diocese and Caritas Sorsogon delivered the flour to partner bakeshops and parishes, with the bakeries supplying the rest of the ingredients, aside from the labor and other expenses. “For every 10 sacks of flour given to the participating bakeries, three sacks were used to produce breads that will be distributed by the parish stations to the poor and the frontliners. Most of the bakeries, however, were generous enough to offer 60-40 and 50-50 sharing for the flour,” explained Fr. Rowan.
“Once they see something good, the generosity in others is also spurred” said Fr. Rowan. “I think that’s also the idea behind the multiplication of loaves and fish by Jesus Christ. It’s actually a multiplication of generosity, more than just a miracle.”
From March to April 2020, the Bread of Life Program was able to provide bread to almost 16,000 households using the Jollibee Group’s flour donation.
“Dahil nga sa pandemya, iyong tinapay na ginagawa natin bilang tulong sa mga frontliners at komunidad, nagbibigay ng buhay sa kanila—inspirasyon din habang sila nasa panganib at napapagod. Binibigyan din natin sila ng buhay para alam nila na andyan tayo, nagsusuporta sa kanila (Because of the pandemic, the bread that we made for the frontliners and families not only nourished them physically, but also provided inspiration especially while they are at risk and weary. We helped nourish them so that they would know that they have people who are ready to support them),” said Bishop Alan.
“Organized efforts—such as those undertaken through the Bread of Life Program in Sorsogon—help us ensure that we would be able to bring food safely and directly to the areas where they are most needed,” said Jollibee Group Foundation Executive Director Gisela Tiongson.
Now that restrictions have been eased in Sorsogon, Bishop Alan and the Diocese will continue baking every Saturday for the children in the area. He hopes that this feeding program would be coupled with catechism when face-to-face gatherings would be allowed. For now, the Diocese shares lessons and reflections through their programs through Spirit FM Sorsogon’s radio station and social media pages.