Volunteers create finder app to make community pantry information more accessible

From an initiative that started in Maginhawa, Quezon City, the revolutionary community pantry has spread like wildfire to different communities all over the country to help struggling Filipinos cope during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While some Filipinos were quick to organize their own community pantry, several mapmakers and mapping advocates also came into the picture in a bid to create a centralized community pantry website directory. 

Hoping to make these initiatives more accessible, a community finder app was also developed by Karl Jamoralin, a Filipino software developer to further help people access community pantries in nearby areas.

“Eventually, I decided that it would be best for me to develop a mobile app that will help people to connect with community pantries,” Jamoralin said as he brainstormed ways to help the rise of community pantries in the country. 

Jamoralin started creating the mobile application on April 18. He worked together with his wife, who started searching for social media posts about community pantries . Initially, they only gathered 13 community pantries to be included in their mobile app. 

But such work wouldn’t have been sustainable alone. 

Jamoralin collaborated with crowdsourcing initiative “Saan Yan PH" that launched Saan May Community Pantry?, a platform that maps community pantries across the country.

Through this partnership, Jamoralin was able to integrate the website’s verified data to the mobile app. Because of this, Jamoralin said that with the complementary work of volunteers, people have easier access to their community pantries within their neighborhood at just their fingertips. 

The app not only pins the locations of community pantries, but also comes in handy with the important details regarding these community pantries, including available supplies, contact details, and schedules. As of April 28, both platforms have included 797 community pantries. 

A volunteer-driven app

Jamoralin, who only does volunteer work for this initiative during his free time, emphasized that the mobile app is a product of volunteer work.

After he announced his mobile application to the public on April 23, several of his friends also offered to make a logo for the mobile app and made suggestions for improvement. At that time, there were already almost 300 community pantries mapped out nationwide. 

“This app is purely volunteer-driven. We just come up with what help we can offer during this difficult time. We see that we have fellow citizens who don’t have enough so... we think of a way to help,” he said.

Jamoralin added these initiatives also provide the necessary information needed for those willing to provide assistance or donations.

The volunteers of these initiatives also reminded and encouraged community members to send out information about community pantries in their area for inclusion on both platforms.

Community pantry organizers, for instance, can voluntarily share their community pantry location and answer the form on the website, which will then be verified and integrated into the community pantry finder app.

Through this effort, the available information can be made accessible and timely for the community. 

Another volunteer from Saan Yan PH, Maki Tamura, underscored the importance of working together for the community to make initiatives like creating a website map, mobile app, and gathering data, more efficient. 

“Community pantries are places that show hope and form of bayanihan spirit. This is a special type of map because it shows you a map of people who are working together so that they could help others,” Tamura explained.

This remains especially relevant as community pantries are being red-tagged by government-linked organizations.

Tamura recognized the courage of community pantry organizers in risking giving out their information so they could help people in their community.

“Our government is giving them issues that they should not be thinking about in the first place. These people should only think about how they will help and share the love with other people,” he said.

However, Tamura said people can contact them if they want their information removed or modified.

“Technically, we don’t spend money for maintenance and data collection. It’s pure love and volunteer work,” Tamura said.

A way forward

Since the mobile application requires a phone and data connection, Jamoralin hoped that people who have access to the application would be able to give information and help those who have no internet access. 

He also encouraged the public to promote the app if they find it useful. He said local organizations and barangays can reach out to him to further promote the mobile app and bring it closer to the people.

“Hopefully, there are people in the community who have phone and access... (to) the application so that they can give information to someone who has no access and needs the help of the pantry. It’s really a community effort,” he said.

He also mentioned that these efforts initiated by Filipinos say more about their willingness to help each other in these difficult times.

Aside from providing food and other basic necessities, community pantries have evolved, providing healthcare services, educational supplies, and even food for pets. 

“I’m very happy that people are trying to help in any way they can either use their time, treasure, and their talent. We try to help in our own little ways,” Jamoralin said. – Rappler.com

The Community Pantry Finder app can be downloaded on the Google Play Store through this link.

Jezreel Ines is a Rappler intern. He is a third-year journalism student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.