I started following the adventures of my friend Benjie Abad (aka Mang Urot, aka James Braddock) even before he set up his soup kitchen, the Karinderia ni Mang Urot, or Mr. Annoying’s Eatery. He’s featured in several posts on this website: his discovery of his mission (Link), a photo essay of the soup kitchen in the Bank of Commerce parking lot on the corner of Quezon Avenue and Examiner Street (Link), a personal profile (Link) (Link), a delivery of lunch and school supplies to a rural school (Link) and events involving him and other volunteer organizations (Link) (Link). Recently I attended the sixth anniversary meal and did a couple of interviews, this first as Benjie was driving me back to Tagaytay. I also interviewed jis wife, Jeannette, and one of the volunteers, Redge Francisco. The photos come from this celebration, from Jeannette’s Facebook page and from previous years.
Full disclosure–Benjie’s good works are not confined to the needy. For example, when I started having trouble with my knees a year or so ago, he and his assistant drove two or three hours out to Tagaytay, spent over five hours assembling the 88 separate parts of my new stationary bike and then drove home. The bike has proved indispensable.
How did you happen to start a soup kitchen?
Way back in 2012 I saw two kids by a dumpster eating fried chicken, which. I assumed they’d retrieved from the dumpster, and I thought no human being should have to eat garbage. That was the beginning.
So you went around making deliveries to people you found sleeping on the street? You and Brigette put together packets of stuff to take around to people?
Yes, for two or three months before I set up the soup kitchen, my youngest child and I went around giving food to the homeless. Brigette was nine years old at the time, Now she’s fifteen.
She became your co-founder, right? Do you expect she’ll take after you?
I’d like to inspire my children to be kind to others. That would be the best legacy I could have. But time will tell.
Why did you name it for an imaginary Mang Urot, or Mr. Annoying?
I had already set up a Facebook page for my posts and pronouncements, which I playfully named annoying, in the sense of a gadfly for action. I thought the name Karinderia ni Mang Urot would catch on.
How many times a week do you do this, and how many people do you serve?
Three times a week—Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Usually it’s 80 to 100 persons a day, so we estimate about 70,000 individual servings in six years. Monday through Thursday people can knock on my door and we’ll feed them.
You do not appear to me to be a rich man, so where does the money come for this?
Well, there are many people who trust me and are inspired by what I’m doing. Some of them are friends and acquaintances. Some are just people who walked in and helped us out with funds. Some are people from abroad who happened to see what I’m doing and took it upon themselves to support me. Most are Filipinos, but there are also foreigners who support us.
So is this a lifetime mission?
When I saw these two kids eating the chicken from the dumpster, I made a pledge to my God to feed the hungry until the day I die.
That’s quite a pledge.
Yes, and I will honor it.
What’s this I hear about your having been offered some kind of prize which you declined?
I was considered for an award given by the local government and I think also a cash prize—Quezon City Volunteers something award. I declined because I think the government should do what I’m doing. Instead of giving me an award why don’t they do it themselves? After all, they are the government. If they can put up big, multi-billion pesos infrastructure projects, I don’t see why they can’t do small projects for the poor.
So you’ve got a lot of volunteers helping out. Where do these people come from, and why are they doing it?
They’re from different parts of society–ordinary employees, managers, policemen and policewomen, priests, lawyers, doctors. Different levels of income and status. I don’t care. Those who want to volunteer are always welcome.
I remember that at least one organization decided to model a soup kitchen off of yours.
That was the elementary school connected with St Paul University of Quezon City. I invited the principal of the school when Brigette was still studying there. People from the school came to the soup kitchen four times and then asked about putting up one of their own. I said it was a good idea. For me it’s not about building up an organization but about spreading its good work. So now there are more people serving the needy.
Speaking of organizations, I think I heard you say that your final goal would be for yours to cease to exist because there was no longer a need for it.
Yes. I always say that when people ask about my vision for the organization, I’d like it to close down because the government and the churches, those who are supposed to take care of the needy, are actually doing their jobs and don’t need others to help out.
Now, in addition to feeding all these people three times a week, you’re taking supplies to schools in remote areas?
Yes. We have taken supplies to about twenty or twenty-one schools in different provinces in the Philippines. There’s a school in Zambales, one in Mindoro, three in Manila, two in Rizal, one in Nueva Ecija, along with a few others I can’t remember at the moment. We went to two or three of those schools twice, the others just once.
And what kind of school supplies did you take?
Pencils, ballpoint pens, notebooks, scissors, rulers, pads, slippers, toys. And some medical supplies we keep on hand. We shared food with them, and we ate together.
At your house there’s an outside entrance to toilets people can use. Why is that?
Because the government usually doesn’t permit the homeless to use the bathrooms in the village halls. They’re not considered voters of the government unit. Some of the people have been apprehended for using restrooms in some churches. These institutions are not friendly to the needy. I decided to put up a bathroom they can use whenever they need it. There are showers too.
For a while you also had places where they could sleep, right?
Well, there was an outside apartment, but because it was seldom used I rented it out and set up the classroom so it could be used as a shelter to sleep in.
There were also some individuals that you helped, like the little girl who needed surgery?
Yes. A little girl named Charise from Mindoro Province needed surgery for a birth defect called meningocele, which causes accumulated fluid and an enlarged head. So we took care of her while she was given medical attention in a local hospital. Her family stayed at our house for about three or four months, and we helped out as much as we could with the medical expenses.
Some time ago you took me and a friend to meet some squatters that I interviewed, and they fed us a nice meal. Then recently Fely, one of the squatters, died, and later her brother-in-law died?
Yes. We contributed toward their burial expenses. Whatever we can do for the needy, if we have the ability, we’ll do it.
I’ve heard you say things that must get under some people’s skin about serving the poor first, before the churches or God?
I like to say, “Serving the church and neglecting the poor is one of the greatest hypocrisies of our time.” Most people serve the church, but they ignore the poor. That’s just my opinion, but I see it often. The problem is not supply. The problem is greed.
So would you say that your political ideology is socialist or what?
I’m a communist, not in the sense of taking up arms but in the sense that Christ was a communist. He shared everything with everyone: knowledge, assets, food. These are all ours in common. So basically I’m a communist.
What was your reaction, and how did you feel when Benjie told you he wanted to start a soup kitchen?
At first I was apprehensive because at the time we were struggling financially. But in the long run I realized there was no point in stopping him. Not a lot of people will consider other people’s welfare. It was very noble of him to think that way. I’m now beginning to see the best part of him
Doesn’t his mission impose some hardships on the family? You seem to be more than okay with that. Are you? How would things be different if he were holding down a regular job?
Yes it does, but of course I have to support my husband because I know what he is doing is right.
So it’s your own conviction that he’s right, rather than a sense that it’s your duty to support your husband? You always look proud and happy to be part of this work.
I’m not supporting him because he’s my husband, I’m supporting him because it’s the right thing to do.
Do you also enjoy mixing with the people at the soup kitchen and preparing and serving the meals?
Yes.. it feels like I’m with my family. I have met a lot of new friends that share the same passion we have. The preparation is a lot easier when I’m with the volunteers
I found out about this group while I was browsing through Facebook looking for volunteer work to do on weekends. KMU happened to be very near my workplace, but I was in the Facebook group for two months before I visited the site. During that time I communicated with Kuya Benjie [“kuya” or “older brother” is an honorary title].
I saw him again at a fun run set up by iVolunteers, an organization for volunteer groups in the Philippines. I went to the KMU booth and decided to go ahead and do my bit. So I asked what I needed to do and what I should I bring. He said, “Just come, bring something if you want to, but it’s really not necessary.”
As soon as I stepped out of the car at the soup kitchen site and saw all these people, the volunteers welcomed me and asked me if I wanted to mingle with the homeless people. They said to go ahead, join in and serve the food. Serving was really humbling, just knowing that I didn’t need to be rich to help another person. So that act alone gave me more insight into what I wanted to do. I encouraged my friends to come and experience the same things.
I’ve been taking part in various activities. Then Kuya Benjie posted that another volunteer was needed to see a sick girl in Mindoro. Immediately I asked my manager if I could take a day off. We drove all the way to Mindoro to see this sick baby girl—Charise–and eventually brought her to Manila.
When my friends heard about it they wanted to belong to the group. I told them what Kuya Benjie told me, “Just go there if you want to volunteer. Your time is what really matters.” My friends have helped with the program. Once we pooled our resources and bought all the food. So we didn’t have to prepare anything.
Doing one act of kindness, asking people how their day was, even asking their names. They seemed to find my interest very comforting, especially the old ladies. I’d ask if they’d been on the streets. After the meal, when we said goodbye they’d give me a hug. It seemed more rewarding than anything else.
To become a volunteer in some other groups you have to fill out a lot of forms, attend seminars and all that. Other groups are more into fundraising than giving. You know what I’m saying?
Here you just be yourself. Let whatever you do come from your heart. It’s a priceless feeling. You work hard, but it doesn’t feel like you’re exerting yourself too much. At the end of the day when you come and have this one hour with these homeless people, it already feels like you’ve shared a lot of your time with them.
Once Kuya Benjie offered me a “staycation,” free hotel accommodation. He asked me if he could put a homeless old lady in the room with me. I said yes of course. We also put up a group of homeless moms in rooms at the hotel. One was tearing up the whole time because it was a week before her birthday, and she was very thankful. Every time I see her it’s like we’ve really bonded.