Manila’s soup kitchens

George P. Moya
The poor and hungry hunt for their food and line up at the city's soup kitchens every day. They already know where to go for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A day in the life of soup kitchen regulars in Manila. All photos by George Moya

MANILA, Philippines – While foodies feed social media with images of their sumptuous feasts, showing the world that life can be enjoyed one bite at a time, millions of people go without food every day. 

In Manila, the hungry get by with the free meals provided by the many soup kitchens in the city.

A scoop of pancit and one boiled egg were on the menu at a soup kitchen in Sta Cruz Church on Friday, March 21. Juana Baruele, 52, and Giselle Ann Baruele, 9, were handed their share.

The grandmother-granddaughter pair has been doing the rounds of the soup kitchens in Manila for a year now.

Lola Juana was forced to go to the feeding programs after her husband left her for another woman. She receives no financial support from her estranged husband.

Young Giselle was left to the care of her grandparents since she was two months old. Her mother and father have settled with their new families, respectively. 

“I hope I can send her to school this year,” Lola Juana said.

Jessie “Mamang” Opimo waved at Lola Juana and Giselle. He said he has been a volunteer at soup kitchens since the ‘70s. Widely known in their community, Mamang acts as crowd control manager in some soup kitchens.

But Mamang said he is fed up with some people at the soup kitchens. He was talking about able-bodied men who choose to remain jobless and depend on the soup kitchens for free meals.

“They spend what little money they make on vices,” he lamented.

Meanwhile, Giselle shared her meal with a younger boy, son of one of the indigents still falling in line for the pansit-and-egg combo meal. After they finished their meal, Giselle told Lola Juana, “I’m still hungry.”

But the next meal would not come until noontime.

Lunch

Lola Juana and Giselle were first in line at the Lugaw ni San Jose soup kitchen, in front of the Quiapo Church. The ever-present Mamang was again controlling the crowd.

Already seated on the table were the 4 young children of 25-year-old single mother Abigail Briones. Like Lola Juana, Abigail, too, is estranged from her husband. She, too, receives no financial support.

Abigail started to come to Quiapo for the free Friday meals in 2010, when she was still pregnant with her youngest son.

“I only make P70 a day selling junk and P200 a week washing clothes,” she said.

Freddie Frillarte handed Abigail a bag of bread for them to take home. Freddie is a balikbayan, who was once the food and beverage manager of the Sheraton Hotel in Florida, USA. It has been 9 years since he started the soup kitchen in Quiapo.

“We make around 500 servings per meal,” he said. Lugaw ni San Jose provides rice porridge and bread roll at 6:00 am, 12:00 pm, and 6:00 pm, every Friday.

Dinner

Lola Juana and Giselle stayed in Quiapo for dinner. Giselle has asthma and Lola Juana fears she might suffer an attack if they make the long walk to the next soup kitchen.

But the others, like William Cardeno, flock to the San Sebastian Church, where the soup kitchen serves rice meals.

The 66-year-old claims to have fathered 6 children with 5 different women. He is not sure where they are. William was once a feared pickpocket at the Blumentritt area. He said he went by the name, “Bundat, Agila ng Tondo.”

He has been to jail twice: once for pickpocketing, once for double homicide. After serving his sentence, he claims he is a changed man.

The part-time jeepney barker, William, joined the others as they prayed the rosary inside the San Sebastian Church.

“We provide food for the soul and food for the body,” Edith Morales said, one of the volunteers for the charismatic group “Anak ng Diyos.” She has been with the feeding program since the parish priest of San Sebastian started the soup kitchen about 20 years ago.

One time, they prepared food for 300 people. It was misua and rice for dinner.

Meanwhile, Lola Juana and Giselle had a second serving of the rice porridge in Quiapo. Another day, they will go to other soup kitchens in other locations for their meals.

The cycle repeats every day of the week, and they fall in line at the start of each day at the Sta. Cruz Church for their breakfast. – Rappler.com

George P. Moya is a freelance photojournalist and an associate member of the Photojournalist’ Center of the Philippines. He regularly contributes photo stories for Rappler.