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Community pantry: Activism to feed the people

People came either to drop off goods and get the goods — a microcosm of a society motivated by genuine concern for each member of the community.

Pocholo Concepcion



Community Pantry organizer Patricia Non (left): ‘What’s important is to keep it going and for more volunteers to help. The ideal is 30 people taking turns at the pantry...’

Ana Patricia B. Non chuckled as her siblings and her mother realized why she had asked them a few days ago for the Filipino translation of, “Give what you can, get what you need.”

The translated phrase, “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan,” became the sign that accompanies the Maginhawa Community Pantry — a bamboo cart laden with food for people with nothing to eat.

A snapshot of the cart — which Patricia first parked on 14 April beside a tree on Maginhawa Street fronting Cinema Centenario and Romantic Baboy restaurant at Teachers Village in Quezon City — went viral on Facebook.
People came either to drop off goods and get the goods — a microcosm of a society motivated by genuine concern for each member of the community.

Other communities near and far were inspired to set up their own roadside pantries, as millions of Filipinos reel from Covid-19’s devastation of life and livelihood.

Patricia, or Patreng to family and close friends, saw the problem up close as her neighborhood in Sikatuna Village went on lockdown a week before the government imposed the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila and four provinces.

Speaking to Daily Tribune by phone in Taglish, Patricia, 26, said she herself had been hit hard: “I’ve had no income for the past two months.” (She runs Silya MNL, her own business that restores and remodels preloved furniture.)

Zena Bernardo (left) with her daughter, Maginhawa Community Pantry organizer Ana Patricia B. Non: “Patreng has always been the one full of empathy among my four kids.”

“Life was getting difficult, but I also thought about my workers and other people, especially those who have nothing to eat since they’re jobless now,” she continued. “I have some savings and grocery items at home. I was thinking how I can help people fend off hunger because one can’t work or study when hungry.”

It’s a new concept here, but the idea of a community pantry started abroad. They do in the United States and Germany, she said.

“During winter, people there donate coats for others who need them to fight off the cold,” explained Patricia, a Visual Communications graduate at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts in Diliman.

And so, last week, she walked along Maginhawa Street (“like someone who lost her way”), looking for a spot to set up her version of a community pantry using a bamboo table with wheels (“the prototype of my business”).

She found a corner and asked permission from vendors selling vegetables nearby. Eventually, she started buying the veggies to add to the items on the cart.

“I was moved to tears. Everyone could relate to the reality of grumbling stomachs,” she said of the overwhelming response of people who pass by the mobile pantry to replenish the food stocks.



“Patreng has always been the one full of empathy among my four kids,” Patricia’s mother, Zena Bernardo, told Daily Tribune via Messenger. “I remember her coming home sad because of the people she met who were in a heartbreaking situation. She would cry sometimes, full of pity for them and helpless that she couldn’t do anything to change things… Even now during the lockdown, she worries the most for the family — especially her siblings and her grandmother. To care for others, that has always been her character.”

Asked if her own social activism has rubbed off on her daughter, Zena replied: “She has been doing quite a lot before this project went viral. She has been volunteering with farmers, in community kitchens, raising funds to give rice to displaced jeepney drivers with her sorority (Artist Circle Sorority) sending food to typhoon victims in Cagayan, anywhere she can help.”


How to keep it going


At 9 a.m. on 17 April, Daily Tribune took pictures and videos of a long line of people waiting for their turn to get their share of the free food at the Maginhawa Community Pantry. Many of them were said to have lined up as early as 5:30 a.m.

Patricia said she understands when some beneficiaries get more than others. “I put myself in their shoes, what if they have a large family and they wonder till when will this last.”

What’s really important, she said, is for the community to keep it going and for more volunteers to help oversee the pantry.

“The ideal is 30 people taking turns at the pantry for 10 minutes each,” she pointed out.

She herself admitted it’s physically draining since she has only six people, the veggie vendors and tricycle drivers in the area, helping her out.

On the night of our interview, “she passed out” due to fatigue, said her mother.

But the morning after, she sounded perky on the phone: “Five minutes, I’ll just finish eating breakfast.”

Meanwhile, Malacañang praised the emergence of “community pantries” where donated food packs are made available for the poor, saying it exemplified the Filipino “bayanihan spirit.”

The initiative, which started outside a former food park along Maginhawa Street in Quezon City, was replicated in other areas to help those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The poor were encouraged to take only what they needed from the pantries, while those who could donate were enjoined to give what they could.

“The emergence of community pantries is laudable. It exemplifies the Filipino bayanihan spirit during this challenging time of Covid-19,” said in presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque.

“As we have said on numerous occasions, we cannot defeat the Covid-19 pandemic alone. We need the support and cooperation of everyone,” the official added.

The community pantries were put up by concerned citizens a week after the reimposition of the strictest lockdown classification in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal, which shut down non-essential businesses and left hundreds of thousands jobless.

The National Economic and Development Authority estimated a P30-billion loss in household income during the two-week lockdown.

At press time, community pantries have also surfaced in other cities in Metro Manila, such as Manila, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Pasig and Valenzuela. It also popped up in the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite and Laguna.

Donations have poured in to refill the pantries. (With MJ Blancaflor)