Community Pantries in the Philippines: Sharing Food and Giving Voice to those in need

by SEA Wave
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By: Shaina Semaña

 

Around this time last year, when the whole world just started to face the changes brought by the pandemic, different groups across the globe started all sorts of initiatives to lend a hand to people greatly affected. One of these is a group of  Thai monks and one of our featured #SEAtizens,“Little Brick” led by Supakit Kulchartvijit, who started food-sharing projects in Thailand. You can read more about Kulchartvijit and the Little Brick initiative in our #SEAtizens feature.

SEA Wave - Community Pantries - Little Brick

While food-sharing projects, most commonly referred as community pantries on social media, have been going on worldwide as an effective way to address hunger brought by the pandemic in developing countries, it was a week ago when community pantries started gaining popularity in the Philippines—when Enhanced Community Quarantine or ECQ was once again implemented in select cities in the Philippines focusing on National Capital Region (NCR or Metro Manila), Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal dubbed as NCR +.

SEA Wave - Maginhawa Community Pantry

Photo from AP Non

The initiative started when Ana Patricia Non, fondly called as Patreng, set up a bamboo cart in Maginhawa street in Teachers’ Village, Quezon City filled with stocks of rice and all sorts of canned goods. The goal of the initiative is to provide food for those in need and empower communities by allowing those who are able to share some food and goods as well. This simple initiative from a simple citizen, such as Patreng, could be the modern-day interpretation of the Filipino culture of Bayanihan.

Bayanihan, derived from the word bayan which means town or community, literally translates to ‘being in a bayan’. It basically refers to a community acting in unity to achieve a specific goal. Historically, bayanihan is associated with the act of the community helping a family move to a new place, fondly carrying their bahay kubo (a traditional Filipino hut) to their new place. But over the years, bayanihan has evolved from bahay kubo-carrying to different acts of helping one another in the community, such as food-sharing with community pantries.

The Maginhawa Community Pantry started by serving about 10 QC residents and, about a week later, Patreng mentioned that they are now helping about 1,000 to 2,000 residents daily and about 3,000 over the weekend. There are also more volunteers dropping goods in the humble pantry. As for the monetary donations that they are receiving, Patreng said that the money was used to buy much healthier goods such as vegetables and she insisted on buying goods from local vendors and farmers to make sure that they are also helping them in their livelihood.

With the line and goal “Magbigay ayon sa kakahayan. Kumuha batay sa pangangailangan.” (Give what you can. Get what you need), the community pantry instantly went viral on social media. It didn’t take long before Patreng’s humble initiative was replicated in different barangays across the country. From Muntinlupa City to Argao, Cebu, people have gathered to share goods and help one another—while observing proper social distancing guidelines, of course.

In an interview with CNN Philippines, Patreng said that her main goal in setting up the Maginhawa community pantry is to help those who can’t afford to stay safe at home as their own livelihoods are badly affected by the lockdown. However, despite its pure intentions, the initiative still faced challenges when it became a victim of red tagging.

SEA Wave - Maginhawa Community Pantry

Screen-captured from Now You Know

On April 20, 2021, Patreng posted on her Facebook account that the Maginhawa Community Pantry will be shut down for the day after being the center of multiple malicious social media post, associating her and the initiative to different communist parties in the country. In the same post, Patreng asked Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte for help in addressing the said issue. She also used the same post to invite media personnel for a press conference to talk about the said issue.

In the press conference, Patreng expressed her disappointment for the malicious comments that their initiative is receiving and insisted that she has nothing but pure intentions behind it. The red tagging incident does not only discredit her but the community most of all. Aside from these, one of the goals of the press conference is to seek help from the local government unit (LGU) in securing the safety of the volunteers. Patreng mentioned that she and the Quezon City LGU, led by Mayor Belmonte, are scheduled to have a meeting to discuss further steps to make sure that the Community Pantry can continue with its sole purpose of helping those in need.

‘Wag nating patayin ‘yong unity,” (“Let us not kill the unity.”) Patreng requested in the press conference. “Tulungan natin ang isa’t isa.” (“Let us help one another.”). She reiterated that, while the shortage of goods and donations is inevitable, the community pantry will continue.

When Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque was asked in a recent press briefing about his thoughts on the rise of community pantries as a result of government incompetence, he said that he doesn’t see community pantries as condemnation of the government. He commends the bayanihan that have sprung from these community pantries and admitted that the ayuda (government aid) distribution is indeed slow but insisted that it is simply caused by the natural challenges of the pandemic and not a gap in the government aid programs.

On the other hand, Patreng and the other organizers of community pantries across the country are not the only ones who have seen the need to address the hunger brought by the lockdown. National leaders and prominent figures also acknowledged that the actual root of this modern-day bayanihan can be associated with the negligence of those responsible. Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson considered the rise of community pantries as an act of desperation. “When you realized you cannot rely solely on the government, you band together to find ways to survive.” The lawmaker said in an interview on Radio DZBB. Meanwhile, former Vice President Jejomar Binay expressed his thoughts on community pantries in a tweet saying, “When the government is absent, we can look after each other.” In the same tweet, Binay called for the nation to help each other and lift each other’s spirits up especially during these challenging times.

While the massive response of community pantries is unexpected, Patreng felt that this is a wake-up call for all of us. The mass has a voice; it’s saying something and we have to listen to them. As she promises that the Maginhawa Community Pantry will continue to help as long as there are people in need and people willing to help, other community pantries around the country aim to do the same. If you wish to donate and share goods, you can visit the nearest community pantry in your place. Simply visit this community quarantine map, compiled by Mental Health AWHEREness PH, MAP BEKS and Ministry of Mapping.

 

SEA Wave magazine’s SEAtizens initiative is a series of inspiring stories of people in Southeast Asia who champion the human spirit by demonstrating courage, ingenuity, generosity, and selflessness.

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