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Cloquet woman raises support for her native Philippines

Cloquet resident Julie Podvin (center), Roberto DePadua, the Kapitan del Barrio (mayor), and a day care teacher work with the children at the San Pablo Day Care Center in the Philippines. Contributed Photo1 / 2
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Julie Podvin returned from her homeland in the Philippines only a few months ago. The Cloquet resident normally spends from September to April in her native town of San Pablo, Bataan. This year, however, she decided to stay in Minnesota until after the holidays in order to be with her granddaughters and family for Christmas. 

It was a fortuitous decision.

Typhoon Haiyan crashed into the Philippines on Friday, Nov. 8, the latest and largest in a series of disasters to hit the Philippines over the past 12 months. 

"It seems like there are always catastrophes there," said Podvin, "-- but not like this."

She said the magnitude of the storm and its deadly aftermath have created a tragedy unparalleled by any that have come before. Thankfully, the region of her village and the areas where a brother and half brother now live were only impacted by high winds and fallen trees. But the hardest hit area, Tacloban Leyte, suffered severe flooding and widespread loss of life as well. 

Podvin was born and raised in the Philippines and lived there until the age of 18, when she went to The Netherlands to work, and then on to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. There, she met her future husband, Mike Podvin, and ended up moving to Cloquet, where they have lived and raised their family ever since. 

Podvin has remained intimately connected with her homeland over the years, however, with many extended family members still living there. About 10 years ago, she decided to close her Oriental food business in the Cloquet area in order to concentrate on spending more time in the Philippines. She has become a landowner there, securing several acres of undeveloped property on the outlying area of Bataan as well as a house and several properties in the commercial district of San Pablo. 

Over the course of the past several years, she said she has come to know many of the workers who travel to the relatively well off area of Bataan to support their families back in the more underdeveloped Visayan Islands. And it is with those people and the many others who suffered losses where Podvin's heart now lies.

"Their stories are all over Facebook and the Internet," she said, "and it is all so heartbreaking."

Podvin said she knows there are many large agencies that are starting to move into the island country to provide help, but she hopes to help make a difference for at least a few.

"From my standpoint as just one person, I'd like to concentrate on just one area and try to help out those people who need it," she said.

She has enlisted the help of State Representative Mike Sundin of Esko, who is also a long-time family friend. Sundin has agreed to help co-sponsor a local drive to raise money and other forms of support for the people in San Pablo, Bataan, who have family members in the areas that suffered the greatest devastation from the typhoon. They are planning to organize and put on a public fundraiser featuring native Filipino food in the very near future (watch for the exact time and date in a coming issue of the Pine Journal), just as soon as they are able to secure a location.

"When I first moved here," said Podvin, "I was the only Filipino person here. Now, there are quite a few of us, and I believe many of the others would like to help out with this to assist their loved ones as well."

An account is also being set up at Wells Fargo Bank for anyone who would like to donate to the effort, which Podvin said they are calling "Minnesota International Aid." Podvin and Sundin have likewise enlisted the support and expertise of the local branch of the Red Cross. 

Podvin said the plan is to work closely with the "Kapitan del Barrio" (mayor) of San Pablo, Bataan, to learn what the specific needs of the people are, whether it's to learn how to contact family members in the heart of the devastation or to send food, supplies or financial aid to help them get back on their feet again.

"Though the greatest needs are food and water," said Podvin, "some of them just need to have a place to go."

She talked of one man who lost not only his home but his entire family.

"I can't imagine what it would be like to just stay there all by himself, when he has virtually nothing," she said.

Podvin indicated that if there is a great enough need, she plans to talk with the Kapitan del Barrio (via Skype) and offer to allow displaced residents to set up temporary camps on the undeveloped acreage she owns there.

"We can't take what we have with us when we die," she said, "so we might as well share it with someone else."

For more information on how to help, call or text Podvin at 218-428-8101.