Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Unbundling joy

POOR sardines and noodles.

Caritas Filipinas recently urged donors to give more nutritious food than canned sardines and instant noodles.

Fr. Edu Gariguez, Caritas Filipinas executive secretary, said that observing a “nutritional criteria” in giving Christmas bundles of joy or relief goods adds meaning to charity that some perform for appearances.

“Meron kasi mga nagbibigay para makapagbigay lang (giving for the sake of giving),” Gariguez discourages, according to a Sunnex report published by Sun.Star Cebu last Nov. 18, 2012.

Gariguez said donors should go beyond buying what is only “available” and “mura (cheap)”.

Is the Caritas statement directed at companies that possibly buy relief goods in bulk, publish a photo or an article about their acts of corporate social responsibility, and get a tax write-off to top it all?

Or was Caritas addressing givers like me who know exactly how many, what brands and the expiration dates of the bundles of joy my family gives?

I’m really sorry that the concern for the recipient’s health was lost in translating the Caritas instruction. Even knowing the effects of high sodium and other preservatives does not make it easier to swallow Gariguez’s preference for “Spanish” or bottled sardines as healthier options.

Why am I reminded of Marie Antoinette’s reply to the report that the masses of Paris were starving for bread? “Why don’t they eat cake?,” France’s last queen said before ending at the guillotine.

In families where “middle class” is just the difference of a chin kept above the threshold of poverty, the Caritas’s downgrading of sardines and noodles as relief goods was insensitive, if not hypocrital. Caritas Filipinas is the foundation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Many families, where both spouses work, prioritize sending their children to the best schools they can afford. In many cases, these schools are run by the religious. When the call for bundles of joy comes after calamities or at the end of year, many students bring sardines and noodles.

Cheap and available, these are usually found in the kitchen cabinet. It’s food that the donors themselves eat.

Anyone who observes the check-out line at supermarket cashiers will observe how canned sardines and instant noodles go in take-out bags or green bags with more frequency than other goods. Does anyone know of many sari-sari stores that stock on sardines in bottles?

This simple law of supply and demand is spurred by bottled sardines costing at least twice more than those in cans. A can containing about four pieces of sardines and tomato sauce can also be mashed and mixed with one egg or a P2 pack of “udong” (noodles) and cups of water to make an instant meal that can feed a family when payday seems like a year away. Ever try distributing sardines in a bottle among a horde of teens on an all-night group study marathon?

Awful though they are for prolonging lifetimes, canned sardines and instant noodles are the staples of many families that, to keep their children in school, can’t afford to turn up their noses at food that works better in quantity than quality. If we had more breathing space between tuition fee installments, we might also go for Spanish sardines, the genuine kind caught from some Spanish-speaking coast. If bottled sardines are on our tables and in our bellies, bottled sardines would wind up also as our bundles of joy.

As a giver, I believe in giving only what I would use. Yet more important than utility is intent.

At the heart of gift-giving is the intention of the giver, which can only be guessed at or interpreted by an onlooker. Only the giver really knows what’s in his heart in the act of giving.

Perhaps that is what the Caritas intends to impart: we should care for the poor beyond a day or a season. Some of our offerings could be better. We pray that the Catholic Church, in tapping spiritual x-ray, discerns more than excess sodium and preservatives in our gifts.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebus Nov. 25, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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