What the community pantry movement means for Filipinos

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Filipinos are setting up community pantries to aid those left most vulnerable by the pandemic. Photo by JL JAVIER

On a hot and scorching Wednesday afternoon, Ana Patricia Non walked along the streets of Maginhawa to find a spot that is both accessible and able to withhold sizable foot traffic. Somewhere in front of a Romantic Baboy and Ministop, she approached the owners of the place where she used to buy vegetables and requested permission to use the space for a community pantry. When it was granted, she rushed home to collect her already-packed goods, called for a tricycle, and quickly made her way back. She set up a bamboo cart along Maginhawa Street and stocked it with rice, vegetables, milk, vitamins, face masks, canned goods, soap and other essentials.

How the Maginhawa Community Pantry looked like during its early days. Photo courtesy of ANA PATRICIA NON

Not long after, she marked the first day of the Maginhawa Community Pantry through a public Facebook post. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., this community pantry is stationed in front of a convenience store where it is accessible to residents located in Krus na Ligas, UP Village, San Vicente, Teacher’s Village, Sikatuna, and Bliss who are free to take as much supplies as they need or share with others whatever they could. A few hours later, she received cash donations from her friends and family which she used to purchase bundles of vegetables that replenished her cart.

Ana Patricia Non owns and runs a small furniture refurbishing business that employed workers severely affected by the pandemic — construction workers turned woodworkers and jeepney drivers turned delivery men. When two months passed with no income, she found herself struggling to make ends meet. Frustrated with the situation she had no control over, she recalled the frequent advice of her sister: “Ang importante ngayon ay mabuhay, mag-survive, at magpalakas. Kung may sakit, magpagaling.”

Non always thought of the people left most vulnerable by the pandemic — those who don’t have the option to stay at home and stay safe and whose meals depend on the income they earn on the same day, if any at all.

Within 24 hours, Non’s post had gone viral across all social media platforms and hundreds of Filipinos were requesting for more information on how they could help further this initiative. To those beyond the radius of Maginhawa, Non urges starting a community pantry of their own. As of April 19, there is a growing list of 28 active community pantries across the Philippines, according to a Facebook post by Non — all inspired by the Maginhawa Community Pantry initiative. According to the organizers, the community pantry has helped 5,000 beneficiaries as of this writing. They also mentioned that donations have been "overflowing" and that they shared them to 15-20 other community pantries.

Matiyaga Community Pantry in Diliman. Photo courtesy of ELIJAH SAN FERNANDO

Following Non’s advice, Elijah San Fernando augmented this initiative with his full-time advocacy and policy work as he set up the Matiyaga Community Pantry in Diliman. On the regular, his days were largely focused on working with farmer organizations to buy their surplus vegetables and distribute it directly to consumers through what they call the Magsasaka Outlet. The Matiyaga Community Pantry gives out free sweet potatoes and other vegetables that they purchased directly from the farmers strained by the pandemic.

Barangay Malake Community Pantry. Photo courtesy of JA ABDEL

Ja Abdel, a small business owner, explained why she was inspired to build a community pantry in Barangay Malake, Los Baños. “The pandemic is tough for some of us but it is even worse for most.”

In Sampaloc, Manila, Toots Vergara and his wife Ana adopted Non’s pantry model. Riddled with doubt in the early stages of planning, they were worried about not having enough resources to sustain the community pantry. Merely a few hours after they were approached by a cohort of community members in P. Noval wanting to support what they had started. “We realized people were just waiting for a venue where they can help, however much they can,” he said.

P. Noval Community Pantry. Photo courtesy of TOOTS VERGARA

Another primary concern of the couple was the possibility of people hoarding supplies and leaving nothing for those that come after them. This skepticism was quickly dispelled as Vergara witnessed nearby locals carefully discern the amount of supplies they needed before even taking anything from the table.

Non shared her experience with Maginhawa Community Pantry where people were lining up again under the extreme heat of the sun or going home to change shirts in an attempt to be unrecognizable in order to get a second ration from the pantry. She explained that these people are the ones who need the community pantry the most, “Sila po yung nasanay na hindi nila alam kung kailan ang next meal nila.” She questioned the unfair judgment of selfishness thrown at these individuals, “Kung maubos ang laman ng community pantry, magandang problem iyun. Ang goal naman sa pagkain is maubos, maconsume at kainin — hindi i-display.”

Valenzuela Community Pantry. Photo courtesy of CYRIL BALDERAMA

Cyril Balderama, a dancer/choreographer who also works for the City Government of Valenzuela, had recently begun their own community pantry in Barangay Dalandanan with Valenzuela’s Performing Arts Community. While their local government unit continues to distribute ayuda in their area, Balderama considers this initiative as a more immediate response to the people within the vicinity who are waiting for their household’s share. He recalled that the most important lesson he had learned being in the arts is to become an even better member to the community he is part of.

Marikina Community Pantry. Photo courtesy of MARA DE GUZMAN

Situated in front of Casa Labada, the Marikina Community Pantry set up by Mara de Guzman, an executive director at an NGO, hopes that street sweepers and tricycle and jeepney drivers receive as much support as they can. “We wanted to empower struggling Filipinos because they are a huge help to make this community a better place.” She likens this movement to a big step towards a stronger Philippines where we demonstrate humanity, hospitality, and everything that makes us Filipinos.

The Bayombong Community Pantry in Nueva Viczaya. Photo courtesy of organizers

In Nueva Vizcaya, a group of graduating college students came together to organize the Bayombong Community Pantry. “Minsan, nawawalan na [kami] ng pag-asa sa bansa pero itong mga ganitong movements na nakikita namin na nagsusulputan sa iba’t ibang parte ng bansa ang isa sa mga rason kung bakit nagkakalakas pa kami upang magserbisyo sa ating bansa,” a group representative said.

New community pantries are being formed each day. However, efforts supporting what Non had started are not limited to the physical spaces they inhabit. People have taken their contributions online in the form of spreading information and step-by-step instructions on how individuals can partake in this movement.

The concept behind community pantries is not new. For example, universities in the U.S. developed food pantries purpose-built to provide assistance to students in crippling debt back in 2013. Thailand’s Too Pan Sook (Pantries of Sharing) emerged late 2020. But Filipinos have unequivocally instituted a movement that’s entirely their own. From affected restaurant owners in Maginhawa to farmers in Tarlac, Non continues to be surprised by the ones who are taking action and participating in the initiative she started only a few days ago. For as long as there are Filipinos willing to share the resources to sustain it, the community pantry is here to help those in need. Non circled back to her rationale, “Hindi niya ma-sosolve ang kahirapan at kagutuman pero sapat siya pantawid gutom para makapagaral, makapagtrabaho, makapagisip at even lumaban.”

The idea behind the community pantry was that people could take as much as they need and donate whatever they can. What Non believed was a necessary act of help cascaded into a social solidarity that spans a nation. She strongly argued against the glamourized narrative that the community pantry movement represents Filipino resiliency, but rather evidence of response and unity born out of necessity.

Elijah San Fernando echoed the sentiments of those who set up communal pantries in their area. “In the absence of good governance, tanging tayong mga ordinaryong Pilipino talaga ang magtutulungan.”


Here's a link to how you can help the Maginhawa Community Pantry.

UPDATE: Here's a list of the current community pantries across the country which is being updated by the Community Pantry PH Facebook group. There is also a Google Maps version of the list.