Filipinos mark first 'monthsary' of community pantry phenomenon

Community pantry organizer Patricia Non and fellow volunteers marked one month since the food bank along Maginhawa Street in Quezon City inspired thousands of Filipinos to mount their own charity drives across the Philippines. 

Non went live on Facebook on Friday, May 14, to present an accomplishment report of the project, which she started on April 14 to fill gaps in the government's pandemic response.

Some 6,700 pantries have been put up in various parts of the country, Non wrote on Facebook on Wednesday, based on their internal tally.

"Bilang mga Pinoy, lumabas iyong pagiging matulungin at creative natin kung paano tayo mag-re-reach out sa iba (As Filipinos, we found creative ways to reach out to others)," Non said.

Patricia's sister Jenny Non said the Community Pantry PH team has received over P1.05 million ($21,986) worth of donations since April 21. Of this amount, there are still nearly P400,000 ($8,375) worth of remaining funds. Another Paypal fundraising campaign is still ongoing.

Jenny said the support of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) has been vital to their operations.

“Marami pong OFWs ang nag-reach out sa akin kung paano ba tumulong sa community pantries. Isang pinag-usapan namin is iyong adopt-a-pantry program,” Jenny said, revealing that some OFWs individually financed as many as 12 pantries.

(Many OFWs reached out to me asking how to help community pantries. We then discussed the adopt-a-pantry program.)

Defying redbaiting

While the community pantry initiative has received near-universal praise, and has been replicated by other countries, Philippine organizers have not been exempt from the redbaiting by state forces.

Patricia had to pause her operations for a day in April amid fears for her volunteers’ safety, 

Some pantries were also forced to cease operations due to alleged police profiling.

In her virtual report, Patricia acknowledged the challenges brought about by the red-tagging.

"Nakakalungkot kasi ang layunin lang naman natin ay makatulong at kailangang mangyari ito (It is sad that this had to happen when our only intention is to help)," she said.

She added that since then, lawyers have provided free consultations to assist pantry organizers subjected to redbaiting.

Sustaining the pantries

On May 7, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte expressed fears donations to community pantries would slow down because of donor fatigue.

Patricia and Jenny’s mother, Zena Bernardo, echoed this worry, but said they are stepping up efforts to sustain the operations of community pantries that are part of their network.

The money raised by the original team in Maginhawa is used to buy vegetables direct from farmers. The goods are subsequently distributed to over 300 community pantries in Metro Manila. 

"Mayroon na rin pong [distribution] hub ang Cavite, Laguna, and we opened a hub in Bulacan, and Rizal (There are also hubs in Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan, and Rizal),” Bernardo said.

The original pantry along Maginhawa has also been transformed into a donation hub, and the food bank there has been dissolved and decentralized into multiple community pantries in the village. 

"Dati, isang pantry lang ang nasa Maginhawa, ngayon hinahati natin siya sa 25 pantries, tapos araw-araw natin silang pinadadalhan ng goods (Before, there was only one pantry along Maginhawa. Now there are 25, and we deliver goods to them daily)," Patricia said.

"Kailangan natin ilapit sa tao para hindi sila mahirapang kumuha ng goods (We should bring the pantries to the people so they won’t find it difficult to get goods)," she added. 

The Community Pantry PH team has also distributed goods to people in marginalized communities, including orphans, political prisoners, persons with disabilities, and indigenous peoples.

Bernardo said she couldn’t be prouder of her children and of other pantry organizers, whom she observed were from the younger generations.

Nagkukuwentuhan kaming mga nanay, sabi namin… napaka-life-changing nitong community pantries in terms of pagbabago ng pananaw ng mga anak namin (Other mothers and I said, the community pantries have been life-changing for our children),” Bernardo said. 

“Somehow, we can step back and say ‘Okay, the kids are alright,’ and I know it will change a lot of things,” she added in a mix of English and Filipino. — Rappler.com

($1 = P47.78)