From healthcare services to pet food: How community pantries have evolved

What started out as a community pantry providing free groceries and food items to people in need in Maginhawa Street in Quezon City has since been replicated in hundreds of communities.

Others, meanwhile, have taken it a notch further, organizing variations of community pantries in answer to the extreme challenges brought on by the pandemic. This noble and charitable endeavor has now evolved to help address other necessities – from health care services to educational needs. (READ: LIST: Community pantries where you can donate goods, basic necessities)

Pantry on heels

Among those innovative efforts is the “JuanSmile'' mobile pantry, where volunteers load fresh vegetables and other groceries inside a van, and stop at specific locations in Quezon City for distribution.

Usually leading relief operations and donation drives, Karl Bartolata, co-founder of the volunteer organization JuanSmile, said they opted to make a mobile community pantry to reach other communities in Quezon City that do not have pantries yet.

Aside from vegetables and groceries, the mobile pantry also tries to provide cooked meals to street cleaners and dwellers, and service delivery drivers.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, Bartolata shared how they struggle with the security and safety of their volunteers during operations since some members of the community forget to follow physical distancing as they try to get items. Due to limited resources, volunteers have to advise people to only get what they need.

“Minsan talaga may mga nakikiusap lalo na yung mga mararami sa isang family na kung pwede dagdagan yung kunin. It’s hard to say ‘no’ sometimes (Sometimes there are people who beg to get extra items, most especially those who have big families. It’s hard to say no sometimes.),” Bartolata said.

Aside from cars, bikes are also used to bring community pantries closer to communities. Throughout the pandemic, trained first-aid youth volunteers of the Go Bike Project have been attending to the healthcare needs of the elderly, pregnant women, and people with existing conditions in their homes in Pangasinan to keep them safe from danger.

With the rise of community pantries, Go Bike Project revamped its operations to offer not only free health care services but also groceries so they can lead a mobile community pantry as well.

Go Bike Project co-founder Edren Llanillo said he started by buying the groceries for the mobile community pantry from his own pocket. Eventually, he asked good friends for donations, as well as, other Go Bikers who could share fresh vegetables from their harvest.

Pedaling the streets of Bugallon town in Pangasinan, Go Bike Project volunteers give free groceries and medical assistance to those in need. Although they only have limited supplies for distribution, they still thought of including vegetables and other essentials in their bikes to help feed people.

“During these times, tayo-tayo lang naman din magtutulungan (It’s up to us to help each other),” said Llanillo.

Pantries have more to offer

Inspired by the Maginhawa community pantry, Arlan Kortez, a former employee of a BPO company, handed out his toys and comics through a toy pantry he set up in Kapasigan, Pasig City. 

Although he recently lost his job, Kortez said he still wanted to help other people in his own way and to remind them to “protect their mental health.”

With his different approach, Kortez shared how residents hesitated at first but eventually kids and adults picked up some toys from the pantry he set up.

“When you go out of the streets, you can see people struggling. Toys can make us happy, and dun sa free toys ko, makikita talaga na lahat nakangiti even kids and adults (with my free toys, you can see that it makes everyone smile even kids and adults),” said Kortez.

Using book donations and their personal savings, mobile library The Happy Liblarry also set up its own pantry at Benefits Street, Barangay Sangandaan, Project 8, Quezon City, where they provide not only free groceries but also reading materials for adults and kids. Books can also be borrowed from the pantry as well.

“I set up the library-pantry hoping that I can help the people in my barangay have food on their table so they do not have to go hungry. Since I personally suffered from mental issues brought by the pandemic, I want to share my own source of happiness, which are books. We provide food for the stomach and food for one’s mind and soul,” said Lorna Zaragosa of The Happy Liblarry.

Zaragosa shared how people were initially hesitant to take anything, thinking they will need to pay or barter for the items. People eventually felt more confident to take items from the library pantry.

With limited resources and a table only borrowed from an eatery, Zaragoza said she would continue to operate the mobile pantry so long as donations come in. 

Community pawn-try

Even animals aren’t left out in these community pantries. Along Kalayaan Avenue in Makati, a community pantry and paw-ntry gives away groceries, as well as free cat and dog goods, and water for stray animals in the area.

The Kalayaan-Makati community pantry was put up by full-time employee Avien Rosete, after a friend of hers from Helping Paws PH donated pet food which could be given away to strays. She added how she was inspired to set up the paw-ntry after seeing how the loss of livelihood for residents in the area took a toll on the welfare of their pets, making it difficult for them to feed animals in the area.

Aside from humans, bahagi rin naman ng community ang mga hayop. Sila rin po ay may buhay at nakakaramdam din – nagugutom at nauuhaw (Aside from humans, animals are also a part of the community. They also have a life and can feel hungry and thirsty),” Rosete said.

A simple act of charity gone viral

Rosete shared how community pantries and their variations have provided Filipinos opportunities to help and give back to those in need. (READ: Filipinos, mapmakers work together to map community pantries in PH)

“Naging avenue siya for people to help, yung mga may sobra nakakapagbigay at syempre nakakatanggap din yung mga nangangailangan, lalo na ngayon, a lot of people lost their jobs or their source of income,” said Rosete.

(It became an avenue for people to help. Those who have much will share, and others can get what they need, most especially now that a lot of people lost their jobs.)

While these community pantries help provide support for struggling Filipinos during the pandemic, several pantry organizers hoped that the government would put in place a better response to attend to these concerns.

“Sa panahon ngayon, hindi natin maipagkakaila na marami sa ating mga kababayan ang hindi nakakakain ng tatlong beses sa isang araw (During this time, it’s undeniable that many of our fellow Filipinos cannot eat 3 times a day),” shared Llanillo, as he talks about how the pantry bike has been important in helping people in Pangasinan make ends meet.

“Sana taasan pa ang ayuda dahil kulang na kulang ito, lalo na’t maraming taong nawalan ng trabaho at pagkakakitaan dahil sa pandemic,” added Zaragosa.

(I hope that the economic aid will be increased because these community pantries are insufficient, especially when a lot of people lost their job and livelihood because of the pandemic)  – Rappler.com

Angel Turiano is a Rappler volunteer under MovePH, currently taking AB Broadcasting at Ateneo de Naga University and a member of ThePillars Publication.