TOWNSHEND -- As Typhoon Haiyan roared into the Philippines on Nov. 8, Edna Bartlett maintained a telephone connection between her East Dover home and her sister’s home on the storm-ravaged islands.
"I talked to my sister until the power shut off," Bartlett said. "I could hear the wind howling."
Bartlett’s siblings survived the storm, but their homes were devastated. Many others were even less fortunate, as recent death-toll estimates have topped 5,600.
That’s why Rence Ricohermoso, a math teacher at Townshend’s Leland & Gray Union High School and a Philippines native, is organizing a local fundraiser to benefit families like Bartlett’s.
"The fact that I’m from the Philippines ... I really want to help," Ricohermoso said. "I want to help those people I know who are in need."
Ricohermoso, also known as Mr. Rico, started work at Leland & Gray in 2009. Prior to that, he taught for a year in Thailand, but he otherwise traces his roots to the Philippines.
He has received many inquiries about his family and has assured all that they are safe. But he notes that a family friend, the Rev. Joel Sagdulla, lost his parents and numerous other relatives in the hard-hit city of Tacloban.
"I’m going to send (help) directly to people who I know, like Father Joel," Ricohermoso said.
He hopes to do that through a bottle drive organized at Leland & Gray.
A disaster-relief fund has been set up through D&K’s Redemption Center in Jamaica and Putney Road Redemption Center in Brattleboro. Ricohermoso asks that residents take their redeemable bottles to either of those centers and ask that the proceeds be donated to the relief account.
Also, donation checks can be written to Leland & Gray Union High School (P.O. Box 128, Townshend VT 05353) with a memo directing the money to the "disaster relief fund."
"I don’t know how much we’re going to get. We don’t really have a goal," Ricohermoso said. "I want to run the drive until the end of the year."
He pledges that all donated funds will "directly reach those in need." That includes Bartlett’s relatives.
Her four sisters, a brother and other relatives -- 15 people in all -- have been living in one home since the storm. They have access to electricity through a generator.
"Pretty much all the houses are all gone. It’s just everything torn into pieces," said Bartlett, a native Filipino who has lived in Vermont for seven years.
"They survived and just live every day and rely on food that’s sent in ... they try to do the best that they can every day," she added. "It’s hard. Christmas is coming, and they don’t have electricity."
Four days passed before Bartlett was able to confirm that her relatives had survived the storm. She calls that "the most-difficult part of my life, to not know."
Now, though her family and many others need help, she feels grateful that her loved ones were spared by the storm.
"I have to be thankful that they’re alive and safe," she said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.