Last Thursday morning, a semi-truck was filled with 30,000 items of clothing at Ocean State Job Lot’s corporate warehouse in North Kingston that would eventually make its way to the Philippines for those affected by Typhoon Haiyan, all thanks to one employee.
Dan Aurelio, a warehouse traffic manager at Job Lot, was speaking with his wife Catherine, a Philippines national currently living in Cebu, when the typhoon hit on Nov. 8. He says he stayed speaking with her during and after the storm until her phone battery eventually died. Aurelio says his wife and her family are fine, but the devastation in the area is severe and relief is scarce.
News coverage prompted Aurelio to act.
“What happened was I saw a photo of 30 body bags,” explained Aurelio, a resident of Lincoln. “I contacted my pastor and asked what we could do.”
As it happened, the day after he spoke with Pastor Al Berja from Woonsocket’s His Presence Church International, Job Lot’s clothing buyer came into Aurelio’s office, something that very seldom happens. Aurelio used the opportunity to ask if the company could put together a clothing donation to help those living in the Philippines; many have been wearing the same clothing since the typhoon hit because they have nothing else.
“I thought maybe we could send a couple of boxes,” said Aurelio. “And this is the end result.”
Job Lot pulled through following their employee’s request, providing 30,000 items of casual wear clothing for men, women and children; the clothing is valued at $160,000. The company is providing the 40 pallets to His Presence Church and their sister church, Philippines International Church of Newton, Mass.
Berja’s wife, Kerstin Uy-Berja, a Filipino who lives with her family in Johnston, was at Thursday’s event to receive the clothes on behalf of her husband who was out of town. Fellow members from both churches joined her.
“We’re overwhelmed by this. It’s way above and beyond,” said Uy-Berja. She explained that His Presence Church’s members are not all Filipino, but it happens that many members married Filipinos and a few do have family members living in areas where Typhoon Haiyan hit. Thankfully, she said, they all survived.
Now the church community will work to raise the necessary $5,000 to send the clothing by container ship to Berja’s network of churches in the Philippines.
“We’re trying to get [the clothing] to them personally,” explained Uy-Berja, as opposed to going through a relief organization.
Aurelio believes that fundraising should be quick.
“If you had 250 people donate $25 a piece, you could probably cover the cost,” he said.
Uy-Berja said they would also partner their relief effort with Renewed Life Ministries in Vermont. That group sends medical supplies such as walkers, wheelchairs, bandages, oral re-hydration kits and more. They will be sending some supplies over to the churches with the clothing.
Aurelio estimates it will take six weeks for the clothing and supplies to reach the Philippines, but that doesn’t matter. “However long it takes for these things to get there, they are going to need it for months to come,” said Aurelio.
Aurelio says he has visited the Philippines once a year, and is glad he has found a way to help the people there.
“They’re really wonderful people. God gave them a smile like no other people,” he said.
Job Lot owner and founder Alan Perlman said the company has donated to international relief many times in the past, specifically recalling donations to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. More often than not, however, Job Lot’s foundation for giving back is in the area of food insecurity in New England and New York where their stores are located, or helping the military. This time it was all because of Aurelio.
“This was a direct result of one of our employees. He asked if we could help and this is the result,” said Perlman. “It was an easy decision to say yes, but it was a direct result of his ask.”
Aurelio is so thankful to his company for their help in this mission.
“I can’t express the gratitude. I’m just overwhelmed and I’m not someone who is easily overwhelmed,” he said.
Down the line, Aurelio is preparing to begin the process of obtaining a visa for his wife to join him in the United States, but he could picture himself retiring in the Philippines.
Aurelio said monetary donations to cover the cost of shipping are being collected by His Presence Church, 383 Arnold St., Woonsocket, RI 02895.