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On community pantries

This reliance was transferred to what limited resources our government provide. Mix that with politics and a lot of bureaucratic red tape, we have an overly delayed government subsidy program.

Darren M. de Jesus



Let’s accept it — the Covid-19 pandemic is too much for government to handle. As a developing country, the Philippines is not ready for these widespread catastrophic events that affect the entire world. The Philippines has learned from geographically placed catastrophes, such as typhoons. From our bad experiences from “Ondoy” and “Yolanda,” local governments now respond faster, national offices have foresight, and funding has been set aside in case these happen.

What is unique with the Covid-19 pandemic is that it not only affected the entire country, but also all other countries where there are a lot of Filipinos working as OFW. This put a stop on remittances on which thousands of our countrymen rely on for daily needs. This reliance was transferred to what limited resources our government provide. Mix that with politics and a lot of bureaucratic red tape, and we have an overly delayed government subsidy program. Do not get me wrong, I am of the opinion that government has been working hard, but the question is whether it has been working correctly, strategically given the scarce resources that we have as a developing country.

To answer the government’s shortcomings in providing timely ayuda, the concept of community pantries was borne from the mind of an entrepreneurial 26-year-old, who has become the image model of hope for the Filipino people, a grassroots thinker with the noblest of intentions. It took a UP Fine Arts College alumna, by the name of Ana Patricia Non, to spark a nationwide trend to help those in need. By putting up a bamboo cart at an unassuming location at Maginhawa Street, a place known for its hole-in-the-wall restaurants and cafes.

What happened next was a wave of these small philanthropic acts, but of tremendous meaning. Similar community pantries were opened all over the country, mostly in dense cities such as Quezon City and Pasig City, where people give what they can, and people take based on their need. This is not a common sight in a developing country, and there are reports of people taking entire trays of eggs and ransacking its vegetables, to unethically hoard free groceries, but thanks to social media, these practices were immediately reported only and brought to shame.

This trend is nothing new in society, and is often brought about by seemingly helpless circumstances. Take, for instance, the Gawad Kalinga movement founded in 2003 with a mission to end poverty for 5 million families. It was in response to lack of proper housing in urbanized communities, which led to the sprouting of pocket villages all over the country. Gawad Kalinga, unfortunately, lost its steam a few years ago, yet we still see these small communities occupied by growing families.

The same happened in Europe in 2018 when a young Greta Thunberg challenged world leaders on complex climate change issues, and raised worldwide awareness on climate change. Greta, then 16 years old, was the image model of climate change in the world before Covid-19, and served as an inspiration for the youth in America and Europe. Her fame was brought about by the continued inaction of first world countries on climate change. Beginning her protests in Sweden, her advocacy led her to the UN Climate Change Conference, then to UN Climate Change Summit in New York. Greta famously sailed on her way to New York.

The proponent of our community pantry has a lot more to be done and I’m sure the media, politicians, and corporations have been calling her non-stop. It is my hope that Ms. Non will take the instant popularity with grace, something that I’m sure she will do. The government, on the other hand, should keep its hands off from these pantries, and not even dare to red-tag these. I am already seeing politicians taking advantage of this concept and putting up their own pantries, of course with their face emblazoned on everything.

This writer is definitely for the proliferation of community pantries. It will be interesting to see if this is the start of something bigger for our country, or whether it will be killed off by red-tagging or politicization. I have my guesses; let’s wait and see.

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