Saturday, May 25, 2024

“Together, A Community Can Rise”

by Ivan Anthony A. Adaro | April 25, 2022

Last April 14, 2021, the sudden spread of community pantries in the Philippines at the height of the pandemic have begun when local entrepreneur Anna Patricia Non worked with local vegetable vendors and farmers to start a small food bank on a bamboo cart for her community on Maginhawa Street, Quezon City with a sign encouraging people to “give according to your ability, take according to your need”, which in Filipino is translated to, “magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan.”  

What started out as a single bamboo cart has now become a ray of hope to over 6,700 communities in the Philippines, and up to this day, the Maginhawa community pantry movement continues to thrive amid the pandemic and make up for the government’s incompetency and lack of action at providing financial assistance to its citizens as it commemorates its first-year anniversary. All the while instilling the value of “bayanihan” among the people, bridging the gap between the rich and the poor, and building a community that encourages everyone to give and take out of their own volition.

Filling the Gaps in Government Response and Incompetence

A community pantry is a system that aims to provide food directly to the locals who are suffering from food shortages. Most pantries coordinate with food banks and organizations for stable supplies of food and goods while some even organize socio-civic activities for patrons. Sadly, for a country where many people are living in poverty and suffering from hunger, such acts and issues are hardly being addressed by the state. In fact, according to the Borgen Philippine Project, the Philippines has a fairly high poverty rate with more than 16% of the population living below the poverty line, where about 17.6 million Filipinos struggle to afford basic necessities.

These numbers should be enough to justify the fact that pressing issues like these must be taken seriously. Tangible actions must be done, such as the Philippine community pantry movement driven by Non and her fellow volunteers. But, instead of Non garnering praise and recognition for empowering people with the means to help people in dire need, her deeds were being attacked and questioned by many spokespersons of the government task force at its early launch. What made it even worse is that as a response to the action of help, the government labeled it as a “communist movement”, ultimately staining the noble and charitable deeds of the Filipino citizens. This essentially is an embodiment of weakness and proof of the government’s incompetency, according to Joel Butuyan, a journalist at the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Still, that did not deter the pure and genuine intentions of Non and her fellow partners. “Pagod na ako sa inaction,” [I am tired of inaction] she shared. With one woman at the helm, the community rose and continues to fill in the gaps hampered by the government’s lack of action.

A Ray of Hope and An Embodiment of the Spirit of “Bayanihan” 

As the Maginhawa community pantry commemorates its first-year anniversary, about 6,700 other community pantries across the country celebrate with them for the ray of hope that it had ignited in the lives of many Filipino citizens. Not only has it provided people the chance to get food and other basic needs, but it has also strengthened the bond between Filipino citizens as carts at the pantries are continuously filled with food, necessities, and donations from farmers, vendors, businessmen, professionals, rich and poor alike, essential bridging the gap that divided the rich and poor.

More importantly, the pantry respects what community members and volunteers contribute and receive, without judging them on how much they give or take. Ultimately, the pantry sparked the interest of many other regions and communities. Today, as the movement continues to take its course, community pantries are being supported and implemented by many Filipino volunteers in the islands of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, spreading and shedding the ray of hope to a much larger audience, all the while targeting Filipino families and children that are struggling to make ends meet.  

As the pandemic continues to bring out the worst in some people in certain situations, the community pantries also amplified acts of generosity and the “bayanihan” spirit among the Filipino citizens, young and old alike. While there are food banks in many places across the world, the Philippines’ community pantries have come to signify so much more. Not only is it an expression of compassion for the poor and marginalized people, but a political statement against the state, as well as a symbol of national solidarity in a country battling to survive the pandemic. 

Not a Question of Sustainability but a Testament of Accountability

The community pantries have indeed shown a lot of promise over the past months since their operation. However, it is also important to take note of the challenges it has been through and not overlook its potential drawbacks. Miss Non’s initiative has garnered critics and naysayers within its early access from many spokespersons in the government. Among them were spokespersons of the government task force involved in the bloody campaign against alleged communist rebels — Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. and Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, where they stated that human nature and greed will prevail eventually and upend the sincere intentions of the initiative. Some even questioned the sustainability of the movement alone and argued that these pantries are unlikely to last, while some strongly expressed their convictions that it can weaken the state, Prince R. Aldama, the vice president of the Philippine Sociological Society, shared.

Still, those were just assumptions at the tip of the tongue because the first-year anniversary celebration of the community pantry movement is living proof that these projects are sustainable and beneficial in the long run, as long as no other party interferes with the motion. In addition to that, these just prove that the government is in fact incompetent in this aspect, and moments like these call for the need for the government and state to take accountability and strengthen their platforms. However, if the Philippines do arise from these situations, let it be a known fact that through unity and initiative, a community was able to rise and fill in the gaps of incompetence and inaction, as seen in how Ann Patricia Non rose to the occasion with her fellow volunteers.

Rooted from the initiative of stepping up to make up for the government’s incompetence at giving its citizens the assistance or the “ayuda” they needed at the height of the pandemic, the bamboo cart continues to steer in the right direction and thrive. With one woman at the helm, a community rises — and this is a living testament that simple acts can turn into big things and that together, a community can rise.

Sources

Aldama, P. (2021). What do community pantries tell about the kind of state we have?. Rappler. Retrieved April 23, 2022 from https://www.rappler.com/voices/imho/opinion-whatcommunity-pantries-tell-kind-state

Butuyan, J. (2021). Seven reasons why the government fears community pantries. Retrieved April 23, 2022  from https://opinion.inquirer.net/139655/7-reasons-why-govt-fearscommunity-pantries

Combating Poverty in the Philippines. (2020). The Borgen Project. Retrieved April 23, 2022 from https://borgenproject.org/tag/poverty-in-the-philippines/#:~:text=The%20Philippines%20has%20a%20fairly,struggle%20to%20afford%20basic%20necessities.

Gozum, I (2021). ‘Pagod na ako sa inaction’: How a community pantry rose to fill gaps in gov’t response. Retrieved April 23, 2022 from  https://www.rappler.com/moveph/community-pantry-covid-19-lockdown-april-2021/

Suazo, J. (2021). What the community pantry movement means for Filipinos. Retrieved April 23, 2022 from https://cnnphilippines.com/life/culture/2021/4/19/community-pantry-filipinos-pandemic.html

Wong, A. (2021). Philippines community pantries give help— and send a message. Retrieved April 23, 2022 from https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/philippines-communitypantries-give-help-send-message

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