DELANO, Calif. — By 4:30 a.m. the line was out the door at the tiny Fil Bake Shop. Farmworkers were picking up pandesal — Filipino sweet bread — for another day in the fields.
Lourdes Talactac chirped "good morning" and asked customers "How many breads?" in English, Spanish or Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines. It was like other mornings, but somehow different, she said this week.
Desperation in the Philippines, devastated by one of the strongest storms ever to hit land, is growing. The cries for help resonate deeply in California, home to 1.5 million Filipino Americans, and in this Central Valley town north of Bakersfield in particular.
Delano, population 52,000, is where Filipino workers staged the first grape strike in 1965, later teaming with Cesar Chavez. A third of the town is Filipino, and most residents have family and property in the islands.
"We're here this morning, but all of us are really over there in our minds," said Talactac, whose family home in Bohol was damaged by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on Oct. 15. She was already sending money to island neighbors put out of work by that disaster.
"What do we do?" she said. "We have to do something."
The bakery is the center of Delano's Filipino community. It was much quieter than usual, Eusebio Del Rosario said as he squeezed rows of cream cheese on pastry for Filipino ladyfingers. The chatter and laughter were missing.
"Mostly we just keep it to ourselves and pray for them," he said.
Tessie Patricio started the bakery 32 years ago. She hasn't changed her prices — six sweetbreads for a dollar — since the day she opened.
"We are working for the sake of these people — they can't afford to pay more," said Patricio, 67. "And to give the Filipino people a place to come for their breads in the morning."
Jan Allianic, a retired prison official, said that after the typhoon, she spent two days crying, glued to the Filipino cable channel. Then she went to the bakery.
"I thought, 'This is too big. We're going to need a center point and it will be Tess,'" she recalled.
Patricio was considering setting out a tub for donations. But she was hesitant.
She was sure the farmworkers, both Filipino and Mexican, would give money, "but some of them can't afford to lose that $1 or even 25 cents."
She was also sure the Filipino landscapers, nurses and agricultural managers who come a couple of hours later in the morning would donate. "But these people are already sending money home every month and they send a little to their children at college," she said.
The usual routine — because natural disasters are not uncommon in the islands — would be for everyone to simply send money directly to someone they knew who was affected.
But this time there are bodies in the streets and unprecedented misery.
"We're going to have to come together. We're going to have to do something bigger," Patricio said.
Patricio had been reading up on nongovernmental organizations, private charities and the Philippines' reputation for public corruption, trying to decide whom to trust with donations.
"This is an agricultural community. We are used to hard work, living from day to day. We can manage to give more," she said. "But it cannot go to waste."