By Brendan Flores, Regional Banking District Manager
Editor’s note: Brendan’s volunteer role as communications and finance director for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations—the umbrella for all U.S.-based Filipino American groups—put him at the center of coordinating Philippines disaster relief after Super Typhoon Haiyan.
The first time I heard about Typhoon Haiyan, I was visiting one of the 11 bank branches that I manage for Wells Fargo in and around Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and had no idea that I or Wells Fargo would soon be involved in providing Philippines disaster relief.
Filipinos are used to typhoons and know how to prepare for them so I wasn’t too worried about my relatives. I was confident they’d be OK.
Then I got a call from a teammate asking if I had heard from any of them and if I knew they were safe. I immediately called my mother in Las Vegas and got nervous when she told me that she couldn’t reach anyone.
I turned on the news as soon as I got home. When I saw the chaos, I knew why my teammate had called. It quickly sunk in that this was no ordinary storm and that as the communications and finance director for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA)—the umbrella organization for all U.S.-based Filipino American groups—my life was about to get busier.
Today, we know just how bad Haiyan (named Yolanda in the Philippines) was. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the storm:
- Affected nearly 16 million people.
- Killed more than 6,000 people.
- Displaced more than 4 million.
- Damaged or destroyed more than 1 million homes.
Not long after the storm came ashore Nov. 7, 2013, near Tacloban City, some 340 miles southeast of Manila, our senior leadership team at NaFFAA began holding daily conference calls and identifying needs from the hardest-hit areas and how Filipino Americans could help.
Those calls continue today, involving myself and 20 leaders across the U.S., Mariana Islands, and Guam. (The Philippines government designated our group as the official liaison for all relief support and donations.)
Rice and other relief supplies are loaded in Ormoc City for delivery to Haiyan victims in Tacloban. (Photo courtesy of the Philippine American Society of Greater Dayton)
Fortunately, there are 4.2 million Filipino Americans and a lot of resources. A U.S. Census survey in 2004 found that Filipino Americans had the second-highest median family income among Asian Americans.
It was amazing how fast the Filipino American community mobilized to help friends, family, and countrymen get back on their feet. Appeals were filmed for local TV and radio stations, telethons for typhoon victims staffed, benefit concerts held, and relief supplies collected.
Meanwhile, efforts began immediately to ask the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to grant Temporary Protected Status to the Philippines under the Immigration and Nationality Act. As was done after the Haiti earthquake, this allows Filipinos to temporarily live with relatives in the U.S. during rebuilding.
Just from Texas alone, our member Filipino American groups have shipped more than 10,000 boxes of food, medicine, and relief goods that were donated by Texans. Additionally, Texas companies, civic groups, churches, and individuals donated nearly $1 million. We air-shipped the supplies to a warehouse in Cebu and transported them by boat to Tacloban.
My volunteer work with NaFFAA and career with Wells Fargo came together through Haiyan relief. Wells Fargo proved not just a willing ally, but also a leader demonstrating the kind of corporate social responsibility that successful disaster relief efforts depend on.
One of my first calls was to Alejandro Hernandez, head of International Social Responsibility at Wells Fargo, who quickly outlined the multifaceted response plan the company already had underway.
That plan featured:
- Grants of $125,000 each to the American Red Cross and International Medical Corps for relief and recovery.
- More than a month of fee waivers for money sent to friends and family in the Philippines using Wells Fargo’s ExpressSend® remittance service.
- Similar fee waivers for use of out-of-network ATMs in the Philippines.
- Wells Fargo ATMs set up to receive customer donations for Haiyan relief, which raised more than $750,000.
Traveling throughout my district of banking stores, I’ve been amazed and overwhelmed by the number of “thank yous” from team members, customers, and friends about Wells Fargo’s efforts in the Philippines.
Flores makes a late-night Haiyan relief call from his home office to an NaFFAA group member on the West Coast.
It feels good to know that my community and company care so much about what’s happening and continue to work together to ensure that my friends, family, and countrymen in the Philippines get the help they need.
Many are still without electricity and clean water, and can’t work because their businesses are gone. While my relatives live farther inland, where damage was less severe, they still couldn’t work for several weeks after Haiyan’s landfall because of the power outages, damaged communication lines and towers, flooded roads, and unopened businesses.
It took almost five days for me to contact my relatives after Haiyan. It remains a stressful time for my mother, who likes to call her family regularly.
After a disaster like Typhoon Haiyan, there’s no quick fix, and recovery requires a long-term effort and plan. That’s why, in the first quarter of 2014, I’ll be traveling to the Philippines as part of a NaFFAA team (and as an ambassador of Wells Fargo) to assess long-term needs. Visit the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation website to learn more about how you can help.
With time and assistance from the international community and companies like Wells Fargo, I know the Philippines will recover and rebuild.
After Brendan joined Wells Fargo as a teller in Nevada in 2003, he quickly moved up the ranks to store manager and then headed east to Pennsylvania in 2010. He’s currently a district manager of 11 banking stores in central Pennsylvania. A resident of Harrisburg, Brendan holds an associate’s degree in business management from the University of Phoenix and is working toward a dual degree in business administration and business management. In addition to the NaFFAA board, he also is a board member of Leadership Harrisburg, a scholarship grantor for The Public Education Foundation of Las Vegas, and president of the Alumni Leadership Circle of the Academy of Finance.