Anchorage Zumba classes used to raise money for the Philippines

thanlon@adn.comNovember 16, 2013 

A group of people cluttered around a map of the Philippines on Saturday that sprawled across the front desk at Dance Plus Fitness Studio in Anchorage.

Their talk overlapped as each person pointed to a piece of the archipelago around Tacloban -- the city that deadly Typhoon Haiyan picked as its bulls eye -- and provided updates on the status of their parents' homes, their families and their friends.

For Sheryl Kelly, the owner of the dance studio, there are a precious few details on what's happened to her 72-year-old mother in General MacArthur, a small town on Eastern Samar, one island east of Tacloban..

"I heard that no one reported deaths," she said to the others. And that's all she knows. The last time the two spoke was before the typhoon hit and power went out more than a week ago.

Soon, a pounding bass kicks in over the dance studio speakers and the mood shifts. Kelly is in the front of about 25 people for Saturday afternoon's Zumba class. She's put a handwritten sign up asking for donations to go to relief efforts and, so far, she's raised about $1,600.

"I have to be positive," she said. "That's the only way I can help."

Since last week, people from across Alaska have organized homegrown efforts like Kelly's to raise funds for typhoon victims. There's a makeshift garage sale in Bethel, Thanksgiving dinner in Juneau and a karaoke night in Anchorage.

"Everybody's helping everybody," said Marilen Reyes Doup, the former president of the Alaska Federation of Filipino Americans and Zumba attendee.

Doup was visiting her mother in Manila when the storm struck. The lights went out at a local mall, the stores closed and Doup spent the night inside as strong winds slammed against their home.

Manila avoided the brunt of the typhoon. It's also the city from which Kelly's uncle has been driving truckloads of food to General MacArthur. Kelly scrolls through Facebook to look at his photographs of the semi-truck that's been stalled in long ferry lines to get to Tacloban.

"Every time I look at Facebook, I cry," Kelly said. "Every time I cry."

Kelly's mother and father live in a brick home close to the shore in General MacArthur. If you fly from Anchorage, you have to go through the airport in Tacloban and drive about four hours east to get there, she said. She described it as a poor town where many people live off fishing and root crops.

Right now, her father is in Anchorage. He can't return to his wife and home until the airport reopens. "He's always just telling us, 'Your mom is OK,'" Kelly said.

Meanwhile, she's received online messages from an aunt and cousin living in Guiuan, a city south of her hometown. There, like in many places in the devastated islands, food is scarce. Kelly said they've unsuccessfully waited in long lines for a depleted food supply.

"It's just horrible stories over and over again with different family members," Kelly said.

Kelly will continue to accept donations indefinitely at the dance studio on West International Airport Road. The money raised will go to Catholic Relief Services, General MacArthur-Manila Students and Residents Organization Inc. or any organization helping in the Philippines that the donor chooses, she said.

"For me, I just want to hear something from my family," Kelly said. "As far as the help, I just want a lot of people to get help right now."

Reach Tegan Hanlon at or 257-4589.


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