While Christians across the country try to find ways to do more good as today’s Palm Sunday signals the beginning of Holy Week, a Canadian-Filipino family has had a head start, sans the reminder from a homily nor the impulse for an act of repentance.
On April 4, a scorching hot afternoon, The Sunday Times Magazine joined May Thorssen and her brood of three—LeRoy, 21; Luke, 19; and Rafaela, 15—in the infamous Smokey Mountain of Tondo, Manila, where the family gave away ice cream bars to several hundreds of children living in the slums.
Thorssen is a businesswoman, working as managing director of an office furniture and accessories company named, Adapt Ergonomic Workplace Solutions Inc. Philippines.
A Filipina who married Canadian Robert Thorssen and migrated to North America, May had always been aware of the plight of her poor countrymen, especially affected by the sight their children.
“It broke my heart then, and it still breaks my heart now,” she recalled to The Sunday Times Magazine.
Ever since she can remember, Thorssen had wished she could do something—no matter how big or small—to make them smile. Twenty-seven years after leaving her home in Iligan City when she was just 19 years old, she, with her teenaged children in tow, finally found a way to make it come true.
A whole lot of ice cream
Asked why she thought of giving away ice cream bars to underprivileged children, Thorssen simply and rightly pointed out that the frozen treat never fails to make anyone happy.
“Children most of all,” she added. Indeed, even adults turn to a tub of ice cream when feeling down as comfort food.
Elaborating on her unique idea, the kind lady continued, “During the recent WorldBex [The Philippine World Building and Construction Exposition] at the PTTC Center, we were giving away free Dairy Queen Dilly Bars from our Adapt Ergonomics booth. It was then we thought why not try to give away these ice cream bars to children in poverty, and with the help of the American Chamber, we did it for the first time on April 3 at Barangay 105, Tondo, Manila.”
In the same place where the Smokey Mountain is located, Thorssen thought out loud, “We don’t know what to call what we’re doing, but we just want to see a kid smile. Even just for a day.”
She explained, “There are already a lot of charitable organizations that go into housing, feeding, education, orphanages etcetera, and I can’t really do those things. But this, the satisfaction I get by just coming to a place like this, seeing their situation, hearing about it, and then getting them to smile with this simple treat, is just amazing. It makes us happy to be able to do this.”
According to Thorssen, she simply wants to spread a little bit of joy to less fortunate children around Metro Manila, but, as The Sunday Times discovered, plans to do so in a big way. For an entire year, Adapt Philippines is ready to give away $100,000-worth of ice cream to as many indigent children as possible. The figure is roughly equivalent to P5,000,000.
For a day, they give around 1,200 to 1,300 pieces of ice cream bars.
‘Over the moon’
The Thorssens moved to Manila in July 2016, and with the children on summer vacation, their mom made sure to involve them in her unique advocacy.
“I want my kids to also be involved because they’re new here,” Thorssen related. “They don’t speak the language and they have to learn the culture. Living in North America and different places in the States and even Europe, they never got to see this kind of poverty. For me, it’s important they see the other side of the good life. Being in Makati and BGC all the time since moving here, they have to come to this side of Manila, and be aware of what’s happening around them.”
Recalling her children’s experience from the day before, the empowered parent said, “They were surprised to see so many people living in such a small place. They were in tears seeing all of it for the first time. They gave away the ice cream bars and got to interact with the children, and now they know that there are many people, many children who need help. I know there are so many charities doing their part, but we are doing this unique thing of just giving children—and even adults actually—a little treat and make them smile,” she added.
LeRoy, the eldest of the siblings, shared with The Sunday Times Magazine that despite the language barrier, they made the effort to talk to the children they met and were over the moon to see them happy and smiling over their simple act.
“It kind of took a whole day’s worth of traffic to get there and come home, but just getting to see the kids for 20 minutes was worth it,” the young man added. “I’ve never experienced doing something like this first hand. You know, sometimes, you make donations to some organization, but you never get to go to any of those places to hand things out to people. Here, I get to see them up close,” he continued.
“The first day was chaotic but still incredible. I was there handing out ice cream and I was just tearing up. I was so, so happy to see them smile. They tell us ‘Salamat’ and ‘Thank you Kuya.’ I don’t know how to explain the feeling … It’s something that you’ll only understand when you experience it. This is really the most rewarding part of coming here to the Philippines.”
It all begins at home
According to May Thorssen, sharing their blessings with others is not new to her children. They grew up with the constant reminder to help someone out in school if they need it, to appreciate what they have, and never to feel privileged.
“I made sure they were never spoiled,” the admirable mother added.
Do-gooders also abound in the Thorssens’ extended family as she shared, “Their grandmother is also involved in many charities, helping people whenever she can, and I’m glad I’ve adopted the habit, which is why I’ve been passing it on to my children.”
Citing an example, Thorssen said that when her children’s birthdays come along, they make sure they give away “extra stuff” they have to a children’s charity.
“If they have a party, I normally write a note at the bottom of the invitation and ask guests that if they have any extra school supplies, like a pens, notebooks, books or whatever, to please bring them and we will give them to charities here in the Philippines,” she elaborated.
Acknowledging her children grew up having everything they need and more, Thorssen clarified, “It’s not that I want them to stop having the things they want, but I also want them to know there are other children who need things more than they do.”
While she would rather keep their act of charity low key—The Sunday Times Magazine was just tipped off about their one-of-a-kind ice cream project—Thorssen of course hopes that those who are in the position of sharing their blessings do so, any time of the year. Holy Week or not.
“I’m sure so many other Filipinos can do something for others too. This is just what we chose to do, and it’s fun and overwhelming at the same time. If everything works out, we hope we can go around the Philippines to give out ice cream bars to as many children as we can. Maybe a few more months down the road, there will even be other groups who will help us bring more smiles across the country.”