Why this Filipino keeps balikbayan boxes coming amid the pandemic

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CNN Philippines (Metro Manila, October 23) — The balikbayan box has become an integral part of Filipino culture, with many of our kababayans traveling miles away from their families in the hopes of providing them a better life.

Which is why for Manila Forwarder founder Manny Paez, helping fellow Filipinos send balikbayan boxes to their relatives goes beyond business. It's about bridging families oceans apart.

"That's why we got into this business. It's not really (about) making money," the Los Angeles-based Paez told CNN Philippines' The Exchange with Rico Hizon. "What it is just being a bridge to help those kababayans from other countries not limited to (the) U.S. We operate all over the world."

However, with a global health crisis raging on, it seems the balikbayan box isn't spared from the wrath of the pandemic.

With businesses closing left and right, Filipino-Americans are losing their jobs along with the rest of the general public, which Paez said "impacted" their purchasing power.

Still, he assures that schedules for shipments are still in place, stressing the need to observe safety factors in shipping overseas, a sigh of relief for Filipinos who wish to send their families something over.

Unboxing the balikbayan box

While the balikbayan box is certainly long-awaited for its contents such as chocolates, canned goods, clothes, shoes and other signature requests, usually just in time for the holidays, it symbolizes something deeper for overseas Filipinos and their relatives in the Philippines as well.

"It's more of an extension of herself. It's more of how she would like us to feel," said Mia Timbol, whose sister lives in Arizona. Like many Filipinos with relatives abroad, they were supposed to see each other soon, but the pandemic has halted all travel plans.

Given this, the balikbayan box has become even more significant in keeping familial ties strong.

"I can't be there so at least through the balikbayan box, nae-express ko na [I can express that] I miss them, I love them and I care for them," said Ervin Ortiz, who has been living in California for decades now.

Of course, no amount of presents from abroad can ever replace the physical presence of a loved one, especially if they've been away for a long time.

"Not everything is about what we send or what's inside the balikbayan box," said Jo Nucum, who works as a healthcare human resources professional in Arizona. "Especially now, what's important is family, that everybody's safe, healthy, you know, that everybody can live day to day."

CNN Philippines senior correspondent Lois Calderon contributed to this report.