WHEN it comes to dining, not everything has to be fine, casual, or fast. Sometimes meal packs pack the most satisfaction, both nutritionally and spiritually.
When International Care Ministries (ICM), in partnership with Rise Against Hunger Philippines, held a meal-packing event on July 14 at the Conrad Manila, 400 volunteers put together 16,000 meal packs. Stef Juan, PR Manager for International Care Ministries – Manila told BusinessWorld that they managed to garner 500 sign-ups for the event, but had to turn people away due to the sheer number of people who volunteered.
The meal packs consist of fortified rice mixed with textured vegetable protein and dehydrated vegetables, with four flavoring packs that will transform these into beef congee, chicken arrozcaldo (rice soup), ginataan (coconut milk porridge), and champorrado (chocolate-flavored porridge).
The posh venue for the event was explained by the fact that the Hilton Hotel group (under which Conrad Manila belongs) has a partnership with Rise Against Hunger. The group’s Hilton Effect Foundation is also a donor of the non-profit organization.
Jomar Fleras, Executive Director of Rise Against Hunger Philippines, explained the nutritional content of the meal packs. Each meal pack costs P100, and is able to feed either six adults or 12 children. “Soy contains more protein than meat,” said Mr. Fleras. Each meal pack also includes a packet of micro-nutrient powder, with 23 nutrients including Vitamins A, B, and C. “When we add the micro-nutrient powder, it assumes that the rest of the meals of the children will be sub-standard already.”
By this, Mr. Fleras means that while the food they might eat outside the program may not satisfy their required nutritional needs, the nutritional content of the meal packs will still help them reach their required nutrient intake. “We check their weight and their overall health,” said Ms. Juan, and this is done before and after the program.
These meal packs are distributed by ICM during its Transform program, which aims to change communities of the ultra-poor (individuals living on $0.50 a day, or about P25). While ICM serves the entire country, the 16,000 meals packed during the event will go to communities in Visayas and Mindanao. The Transform programs are held once a week for four months.
The meals are just a small part of ICM’s programs. Founded in 1992, the faith-based organization uses research and data for their poverty alleviation programs. “We’re faith based. Sometimes, faith-based organizations are ‘by feel,’” said Ms. Juan. “We do have that — but it’s tempered by research.”
Participants in their Transform program are given surveys prior to joining and after, which then helps the organization gauge their real needs, from concerns about health, hunger, clothing, sanitation, to other pressing matters. “Our approach is very business-like, data-driven; instead of more emotional and passionate,” she told BusinessWorld during an interview. “We also have passion — don’t get me wrong,” she said.
In 2018, their research was published in The Economist and the New York Times. They have helped cure 8,075 children of malnutrition, have supported 12,129 high-risk pregnancies, and helped treat 316,297 people for parasites in 2014-2021, according to their annual report. In the same report, their research yields the toll of living on or below $0.50 a day. In their communities (in Palawan, Kalibo, Iloilo, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Cebu, Bohol, Tacloban, Dipolog, Koronadal, General Santos, and Davao), 64% live in “cramped, unsafe homes” while 79% reported leaks in their homes; 65% do not have furniture, and 29% do not have electricity. Finally, 15% of these households have had a child die.
The Transform program uses community-based pastors to seek out the ultra-poor in these places. They are then given skills and financial literacy training, and healthcare support. The food packs, according to Ms. Juan, will be given during these training sessions, as well as during counselling sessions from the trauma caused by Typhoon Odette late last year.
ICM’s annual report said that they have seen a 16% increase in family life satisfaction in their communities, a 25% increase in the communities’ social safety net, and a 107% increase in income.
Ms. Juan however, has somewhat better metrics. She talks about a community of women who formed a savings group (one of the segments of Transform, which urges participants to save, then invest in a community business) together after their training. They were able to open their own business making bags, which are now ready for export (according to Ms. Juan, the savings group is now collectively worth P9 million). Other communities have learned how to make soap, figurines, or have invested in livestock and agriculture. “Our goal is that eventually, the community we leave behind will be able to continue the Transform program without us.”
“We look at their kids. Are they doing well in school?” she said, still in response to a question about how ICM knows its programs work. While their parents have usually not even finished their elementary schooling, some of their children are going off to college. “They have bigger dreams.”
To learn more about International Care Ministries, visit https://www.caremin.com. — Joseph L. Garcia