By Anne Marie Amacher
BETTENDORF – Ten-thousand paper angels sway above the commons area at Bettendorf High School as students there remember those who died as a result of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last year.
Keith Bonnstetter, a Spanish teacher at the high school and member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, created the angel project as a way to remember the dead and to help survivors.
After the typhoon struck the Philippines on Nov. 8, news reports estimated that 10,000 people had died because of the typhoon or its aftermath. “So many lives were cut short. So many families plunged into the depths of suffering,” he said. “I wanted to help, but knew that I would not be able to donate a lot of money.”
So Bonnstetter began thinking about ideas to raise money. Taking a two-prong approach, he decided to make a memorial to the Filipinos lost in the typhoon and to initiate a challenge at school to raise money for relief in the Philippines.
He recruited students and staff at the high school to help fold, cut and create stars for mobiles that would eventually be hung in the commons area. Each star contains 10 angels; each mobile has 100 stars. Ten mobiles all together contain 10,000 angels.
The next part was a challenge to raise money: a daily challenge and the “top dog” challenge. As each student donated money, a traditional-shaped paper star was hung on a bulletin board at school with the donation amount listed. After eight days, the school raised more than $5,300. That money will be distributed in the Philippines in the future.
On March 11, Bonnstetter gave the check to Dr. Eleonor Mendoza-Gonzales for the Sick Benefit Foundation. That night, she spoke to a group at Bettendorf High School and members of the Quad City Filipino community about a trip she had made earlier this year to distribute donations from the Sick Benefit Foundation to people in need.
She explained that following Typhoon Haiyan, she wanted to help in some way. Leaving immediately for the Philippines was not practical because numerous roads and critical bridges still needed to be fixed or rebuilt. More than 7,000 islands make up the country.
While Haiyan caused the most devastation, the country had first been hit by Typhoon Agaton and then Typhoon Zorayda followed Haiyan. That last typhoon dropped rain for more than eight weeks.
Mendoza-Gonzales learned that Father Joseph Sia, a priest of the Diocese of Davenport, was in the Philippines with his family. The day after her Jan. 21 arrival in Tacloban, Philippines, she and Fr. Sia networked with Zonta International to help Filipinos in need. Along with Lourdes Wallace, representing the Zonta Club, they started distribution of aid sacks (clothing, hygiene materials and food) and money.
On Jan. 22 the group went to Guian to distribute 500 pesos (about $13 U.S. dollars at the time) to 1,000 families. A list of recipients had been compiled by social workers in the area. Mendoza-Gonzales said word spread that money was being given out and more people came to the municipal hall.
After the money was distributed to those on the list, the group gave 200 pesos to another 193 families whose names had been collected by social workers. More people needed aid. About 100 additional families received 100 pesos per family.
Next, the group traveled to an area called Barangay Cogon. Social workers helped them distribute funds to 40 families in that farming community. Once again, more people showed up. With this batch of money, the group gave 300 pesos to another 185 families identified by social workers as in need. Two-hundred pesos went to another 102 families. The farming community also received 14 packages of seeds for produce including tomatoes, radishes, cantaloupe and beans.
The following day the group helped Zonta Club distribute its relief bags in Palo, Leyte. That Friday the group went to Jaro, Leyte, where they distributed money to 108 families, along with aid bags.
On the way back they stopped at Barangay Candahug where they met U.N. workers who said they had not received payment for the work they were doing. The group distributed 300 pesos to 337 workers.
Mendoza-Gonzales returned to the Quad-Cities Jan. 26 and learned that the Mississippi Valley Surgery Center had medical supplies for the Philippines. The items will be sent to the Divine Word/Tacloban City Community Hospital, which serves the poor. It is run by the Divine Word Missionary Sisters of the Benedictine Order.