Triangle's Filipinos gather at market for post-typhoon fundraiser

aramos@newsobserver.comNovember 16, 2013 

  • How to help

    • Bitter Melon Asian Market is collecting clothing and other supplies. To drop off donations, visit the store at 9625 Bitter Melon Drive in Angier during store hours; call 919-639-2422 for more information.

    • Catholic Relief Services is collecting monetary donations at P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, MD 21297-0303 or online at

    • The Philippine-American Association of North Carolina is taking donations. Make checks payable to PAANC/Project Yolanda, c/o Susan Serna, treasurer, 4031 Oatgrass Lane, Raleigh, NC 27604. Call Josie Spontak at 919-417-4146 with any questions.

— Mardith Bontrager watched television as the horror of Typhoon Haiyan unfolded in the Philippines last week. For four days she had no idea if her parents, siblings and niece – who all live in Talcoban City, one of the hardest hit areas – were alive, missing or injured.

“I was going crazy,” she said. “I was devastated.”

But finally the call came: Her family was alive and all accounted for. The relief was overwhelming.

Like thousands of others, Bontrager’s family is fleeing the ravaged Tacloban City. Since the storm hit they’ve had limited access to food, water and medicine. Bontrager’s mother recently had surgery, too, a hysterectomy. Each day her brothers wait in food relief lines, but it’s not enough, Bontrager said.

“The city already stinks,” she said. “One of my best friends told me people are fighting for food. They are hungry.”

She’s hoping things will get better soon. Her family caught a bus Friday night for Manila, an unaffected area, to stay at a house owned by her sister-in-law.

As her family made their way to safety, Bontrager found comfort from the local Filipino community on Saturday. Bontrager was one of about a dozen volunteers at Bitter Melon Asian Market’s fundraiser for Typhoon Haiyan’s victims.

The fundraiser, which includes the sale of Filipino dishes such as rice noodles and yucca cakes, continues Sunday. Clothing donations and other supplies can be dropped off in boxes in front of the store on Sunday and over the next few weeks during store hours. Monetary donations will also be collected and given to the American Red Cross on Monday.

Bitter Melon Asian Market co-owner Angela Cernusak, who is Filipino, said her family who lives in Cavite was not affected by the typhoon. But she said she felt a need to help.

“We’re lucky enough to have our close family safe,” she said, tears coming to her eyes as her voice choked with emotion.

“I feel blessed. I feel lucky. I just … ,” her voice trailed off for a few moments. “When I see people having a tough time, this is the least I can do.”

Cernusak, who lives in Fuquay-Varina, opened the Bitter Melon Asian Market a year and a half ago after 27 years in the banking industry. She envisioned it as a community gathering place, but it’s become more like an extended family. And that is all the more reason to get involved, she said.

“Those who are my extended family that were affected also – that is why I’m doing this,” she said.

For Elina Hoyle, who lives in Willow Spring, coming to Bitter Melon Saturday was balm after more than a week of worry. Hoyle made some pies for the bake sale.

“My parents, their home is gone,” she said. “They’re staying in a little church. One of my brothers is riding his motorcycle looking for survivors. He found a family living in a car.”

The best moment was getting through to her family Wednesday, days after the disaster hit Ormoc City in the Philippines.

“I was thankful I heard their voices,” she said. “All I heard was crying. But … (it) didn’t matter.”

Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews

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