Quinn gives local typhoon volunteers a lift

November 15, 2013

Governor Pat Quinn delivered welcome news to a weary crowd of volunteers Friday during a visit to the Jose P. Rizal Heritage Center on Chicago’s North Side. They have been working around the clock to collect and send relief supplies to the Philippines, ever since Typhoon Haiyan devastated part of that country over the weekend. Until now, volunteers had no way to transport those supplies overseas, but today Gov. Quinn offered a possible solution.

“Our Air National Guard is headquartered in Peoria, Illinois, and we have a C-130 plane that’s available to help deliver goods to the Philippines,” Quinn told volunteers, “but we must receive permission from the United States Department of Defense before we can commission that plane.”

Quinn said his office has asked the Department of Defense for clearance, but had not yet heard back.

Still, the hope of state aid prompted tears of relief and cheers among the scores of volunteers, some of whom have been working 16-hour days in an ad-hoc operation that has been largely improvised.

“I didn’t sleep, because this is what I was wishing for, and I hope I’m not dreaming,” said Apple Umali, a coordinator of the efforts at the Rizal Center.

Umali said they have received roughly 200,000 pounds of donated canned food, medicine, and clothing, but the effort hit a snag when a military contractor that had promised to deliver some of the goods fell through. Without a way to get the supplies overseas, she and other organizers have said they are not accepting any more donations until further notice.

Still, the donations keep coming.

At one point, three black cars pulled up to the curb and dropped off several cases of Gatorade, courtesy of the Chicago Cubs.

“We had no idea that this would turn out to be like this,” said Michael Cruz, a tattoo artist who has volunteered every day this week. “I put my home address when we began… as a drop-off place” he said. “I came home (to) a yard full of boxes.”

Since then, sealed boxes have piled up in the Rizal Center parking lot, some stacks as high as 10 feet. Cruz said he and other volunteers have been getting by on just 4 hours of sleep a night. On Friday morning, someone brought in a few boxes of doughnuts to sustain them.

Outside, volunteers filled a shipping container with boxes of clothes, bound for a cargo ship that would arrive in the Philippines in 1-2 months. A truck was pulled into the parking lot, to be filled with immediate emergency supplies like food and medicine. Volunteers are hopeful that they will find a plane willing to carry the load to the Philippines much sooner.

Despite their exhaustion, Governor Quinn’s visit sent a wave of new energy through the ranks of volunteers. Immediately, they turned to the matter of nudging federal officials toward securing permission to use the plane to carry supplies to Manila.

“Start faxing, start e-mailing, start calling your local Senator, our two Senators, and our House of Representatives,” urged volunteer James Villar. “We need their help.”

Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her @oyousef and @WBEZoutloud.