Underfed children from as far as Cavite and Rizal troop to the old, classical-style building of Gota de Leche in Sampaloc, Manila, every third and fourth Thursday of the month for free milk and rice meals.
Some children come as early as daybreak with their mothers.
By the time the city comes to life at rush hour, 30 to 35 children, between three and five-and-a-half years old, would have been fed, weighed and given medical checkups by volunteer pediatricians and civilians.
These volunteers continue the century-old legacy of Filipino feminist trailblazers committed to promoting the welfare of women and minors.
The program is called Gota de Leche—a socialized distribution system of pasteurized cow’s milk, food and supplements among marginalized children, and the formulation of maternal nutrition and education programs for breastfeeding mothers.
La Proteccion de la Infancia Inc., the country’s first nonprofit which was formed in 1907 and initially composed of civic leaders, doctors and businessmen, is the force that sustains the Gota de Leche program to this day.
The 100-year-old building in Sampaloc serves as the group’s headquarters, feeding center, playground, venue for free medical services such as dental checkups and workshops on skills-building and self-protection for women.
Two weeks ago, Lifestyle food writer and “Best Desserts” series author Vangie Baga-Reyes and Inquirer assistant vice president for corporate communications Connie Kalagayan donated to Gota de Leche the proceeds of tickets sales from “Best Desserts 3,” the most well-attended launch of the book series conceptualized by Lifestyle editor Thelma San Juan.
Gota de Leche president and Lifestyle columnist, architect Augusto “Toti” Villalon, and vice president Boots Anson Roa-Rodrigo accepted the check on behalf of the program.
Gota de Leche said the proceeds will be used to buy milk to be fed the beneficiaries in the Sampaloc headquarters and for rice meal packs that the children will take home.
Kalagayan noted that Lifestyle’s “Best Desserts 3” launch was the first time “we thought of giving back to the community by charging [an] entrance fee so that all the ticket sales proceeds could be donated to Gota de Leche… We look forward to [donating] more in the succeeding ‘Best Desserts’ events.”
Lifestyle’s “Best Desserts” series features the latest cakes, pastries, ice cream and other sweets created by culinary talents, from multistarred hotels to low-key homemakers.
Done in partnership with SM Aura for the past three years, the third book launch at SM Aura’s SMX Convention Center had the biggest foot traffic among all three events.
“We intend to raise more in succeeding launches,” Kalagayan added.
Apart from its feeding program, Gota de Leche also has a Breast Milk and Brown Rice program that distributes monthly rations to improve the diet and add nutritive value to the milk of breastfeeding women.
Gota de Leche is also involved in postdisaster relief operations and outreach programs and heritage conservation.
The Sampaloc headquarters has been named a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum, giving the nonprofit “the duty to maintain and conserve the heritage properties under its care.”