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    Volunteers collect donations for the Philippines

    Antonio Obsequio, a native of Guiuan, Philippines, helped collect donations at the VFW post in Needham.
    Antonio Obsequio, a native of Guiuan, Philippines, helped collect donations at the VFW post in Needham.

    NEEDHAM — Antonio Obsequio is from Guiuan, the first town decimated when Typhoon Haiyan made landfall.

    “For 72 hours there was no communication, no electricity, no water, nothing to eat,” he said. “My family survived on coconut trees for hydration.”

    Obsequio, who lives in West Roxbury, described the desperation of his family members, who were not able to contact him for a week. It took four days for them to be rescued and taken to refuge in Cebu City, where he said people are in need of basic necessities and medication.


    “Survivors are dying — there is some relief but it’s not enough,” he said.

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    On Sunday, Obsequio and nearly 40 others did what they could to aid the relief effort at the VFW Post 2498 in Needham, collecting and packaging dry goods to send to the Philippines at the end of this month.

    Three dozen volunteers from three organizations — the Philippine Nurses Association, the Philippine Dance Company of Boston, and the Filipino Apostolate — gathered to pack more than 30 boxes to send to the island nation ravaged by the storm.

    “We have brothers and sisters in the Philippines who are in dire need right now. They are suffering,” said Gina Muyuela, one of the event’s organizers. “They need help to pick up their lives because everything that they own was wiped out.”

    Volunteers bustled around the room, sorting, folding, and packaging the thick white boxes stamped with the blue logo of RDR Cargo, a shipping company that regularly sends balikbayan boxes — items sent back home by Filipinos who live overseas — that usually cost between $70 and $80 to ship. The company, Muyuela said, will transport the donations for free.


    Muyuela said they decided what items to collect based on news reports broadcast in Tagalog by The Filipino Channel.

    Aid workers, she said, asked for clothing, shoes, bedding, towels, food that doesn’t have to be cooked, and toiletries.

    “They have nothing right now. They have nothing,” Muyuela said. “And right now they are hungry.”

    Muyuela said the shipment should reach the Philippines the first or second week of January, but the need will still be great.

    Dave Costello, of Needham, said his children’s Filipino teacher and baby sitter told his family about the fund-raiser. So Costello and 5-year-old Jack and 3-year-old Olivia scraped the cupboards and closets for nonperishable food and clothing.


    “They know that a big storm came and, to put it in Olivia’s words, ‘messed everything up,’ and that there are people who need some help,” he said.

    Obsequio was touched by the turnout of non-Filipinos.

    “That Americans who are complete strangers to us would bring in groceries — it meant so much to us,” he said later during a phone interview.

    In the wake of devastation, the mood was anything but somber. Music pumped out of a corner speaker while the group laughed and cheered as the stack of boxes grew.

    The seemingly celebratory spirit is how the group of expatriates is reconciling the devastation to their community.

    “It just eases our heavy hearts,” said Fely Lambino, of Dedham. “Every night that we watch the news after work . . . It could have been my family.”

    Ronald Lim has a word for it: “bayanihan.”

    “It’s all part of our culture,” the Malden resident said. “It’s like community working together to help one another. It’s as simple as that.”

    Anne Steele can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @AnneMarieSteele.