On Community Pantries, Hope and the Good in People
In March of 2020 the Philippines, along with the rest of the world, went into lockdown because of COVID-19. Life shifted, companies shut down, jobs were lost. While some are lucky to still have a job and steady stream of income, others are not. Those working contractual or manual labor jobs found themselves without a source of income but families to take care of, and who now had to start worrying about where their next meal was coming from. Unlike some, they do not have the luxury of “staying home and staying safe.”
In the summer of 2021, along the streets of Quezon City, a woman named Ana Patricia Non, tired of the Philippine government’s inaction, set up a bamboo cart stocked with packed goods, rice, vegetables, canned food , and other essentials. This seemingly ordinary bamboo cart remained open from 6:00am to 6:00pm, standing on a small street in Maginhawa –– the first community pantry intended for people who could not afford to buy these essentials, and they were encouraged to take what they needed.
Images 1 and 2 - The Riverside Community Pantry - Photo provided by Pantry Organizers
Image 3 - Organizers setting up a community pantry in Makati City - Photo by Jeremy Alvarez
Pretty soon, in the spirit of Filipino bayanihan (which means “we’re in this together”) more people started donating to replenish her little bamboo cart. Through social media, the bamboo cart sparked a movement across the country. By April 19, 2021, CNN Philippines reported that at least 28 other community pantries were established throughout the country, a number that continues to grow.
Shortly after the movement took off, officials from the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict, the country’s anti-insurgency task force, began accusing different community pantries of having ties to the local communist militant movement. The task force sent armed officers to the community pantries to intimidate the pantry organizers. This phenomenon is referred to as “red-tagging”, something not uncommon to the current national government, as similar accusations were raised against students, journalists and human rights activists who were vocal in the criticisms of the current administration. In some cases, this has led to imprisonment and death for some.
In fear for the safety of their volunteers, some pantry organizers, like the Maginhawa, Loyola Heights and Kapitolyo community pantries, were forced to temporarily close their operations. But this didn’t last long, as shortly these pantries began to re-open, and more pantries began to pop up in different parts of the country (rising to 350 as of April 22).
“We were worried in the beginning about red-tagging but we communicated to the LGU and made sure they were aware of our activities, and even got a permit,” share Ryan and Diggy, the founders of the Community Pantry in El Nido. “It was actually pretty random too. One day my mom and I were talking and we saw the Maginhawa Community Pantry, and thought maybe we could do that here too since we’re a tourism-dependent town. We figured that a lot of people don’t have jobs so it would be really beneficial [to have] a pantry here."
On top of this, the mayors of the cities of Pasig, Manila and Caloocan have stated that community pantries can operate freely without a permit in their cities. More and more pantries are started. More and more people are stepping up to help those struggling to survive. More and more people show that not all is lost.
It was a normal person who saw the inequalities in access to basic needs, food, hygiene and health care products. It was a small, simple bamboo cart in the hands of that person that started a movement of people helping those less fortunate in the middle of a global pandemic.
So yes, it’s easy to look at poverty, at climate change, at human rights violations, and only see darkness. It’s easy to feel helpless, like you’re not powerful enough to make a difference, like fighting for the planet is a lost cause.
But is darkness the absence of light, or is it proof that the light exists? The existence of the shadow only proves the sunshine. So maybe, just maybe, Ana Patricia Non isn’t a special case. Maybe the drive in her to make a difference isn’t unique to her. It’s in all of us, in your friends, in your neighbors, in you.