WHEN Ana Patricia Non from Maginhawa Street started the first community pantry in their place amid the modified enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila, the set-up was just a small table along the sidewalk containing vegetables, canned goods and repacked rice. These food items were free for anyone who needed them, the same way that donations were also welcome for those willing to share what they have.
In previous interviews, Non said she did not anticipate that it would grow like it is now, with thousands of people catered to. Aside from this, hundreds of community pantries all over the country were built by individuals who do not know Non personally but were inspired by her and her friends’ acts of kindness.
In Davao City, despite the quarantine status and movement restrictions a lot looser than in National Capital Region), Mary Ann Medina still thinks her neighbors residing in Roxas Avenue would benefit greatly from a community pantry. Medina owns a milk tea shop along Roxas and is the first reported to put up a community pantry in Davao City.
“Our main goal in setting this up is to raise encouragement and awareness to fellow Dabawenyos that a community pantry can also be done here. Gusto nako makita sa uban na pwede diay ni sa Davao (I want others to see that this can also be pulled off here in Davao),” she said.
She added that even if the city is under general community quarantine (GCQ), there were still a lot of Dabawenyos who lost their jobs from the pandemic, do not have other sources of income, and would need assistance either from the government or from good Samaritans.
“Roxas [Street] is not only commercial buildings. Behind these buildings are also residential establishments like apartments, boarding houses. Some of these residents lost their jobs,” she said.
Residents and nearby trisikad drivers were the first beneficiaries of their community pantry. Medina and her staff initially planned it to be a one-time project but eventually realized the intensity of the need of their neighbors and decided to open still for the succeeding days.
A few days after the Roxas Community Pantry opened up, a group of high school friends decided to gather and open up a community pantry in Matina along Quimpo Boulevard fronting SM City Davao. Because of their spacious location, it was easy for them to cater to nearly a thousand beneficiaries every day. It was easier for them also to implement social distancing measures, prioritizing senior citizens and persons with disability.
According to one of the organizers, who requested to remain anonymous, said it was a good decision for them to partner with the barangay. The kapitan sent barangay tanods to help with the crowd control, resulting in a seamless distribution of goods.
Word traveled fast and it showed with the number of people they cater to daily.
On the first day, they were able to give food to 200 people, 550 on the second day, 750 on the third day, 1,150 on the fourth day, and 1,400 on the fifth day. All of these within a couple of hours or so only in a day.
“Kung ako may pera, hindi ako pipila ng two hours. Pero they do, which means walang-wala talaga ito sila and really need help (If I have money, I won’t fall in line for two hours, but they do, which means they have nothing and really need help),” shared one of the organizers.
This organizer is a Covid-19 survivor and a senior citizen as well. She keeps a safe distance from people while in the venue. But the stories of the beneficiaries relayed to her by the other volunteers could only warm her heart.
“Meron isa daw 78-year-old buong period ng lockdown wala talagang natanggap na ayuda. Pasalamat talaga siya sa amin kasi for the first time meron siyang natanggap (There was a 78-year-old man who didn’t receive any assistance during the entire course of lockdown. He was very grateful because for the first time he was receiving free food),” she shared.
The organizers, however, said they understood the limits of government assistance and putting up the community pantry is their personal way of helping the government.
Generosity, the 'virus' we all need
Medina shared that when they first put up the pantry, people were hesitant to get food for free and even though it was a barter trade. When people came, they bought canned goods and other food items they have at home that they can exchange with the vegetables they will get from the community pantry.
Kaye Caina from Sto. Nino, Tugbok District, Davao City is also planning to put up a community pantry in their community they call Panaghi-usa Community Pantry. This means unity.
“The concept [of community pantries] is simple that even children can participate. No small act is discredited. The generosity of Filipinos is being practiced while the insufficiency of the people because of poverty is overpowered by solidarity,” Caina said.
She said when they were looking for volunteers for the pantry, some were asking co-workers to swap schedules at work with them so they can volunteer at the pantry. Others who have something to share, did not hesitate to do so.
As for the Matina Community Pantry, whenever they buy vegetables and root crops, they make sure to buy from local farmers to help them with their livelihood. They said whenever the farmers learn that it is for the community pantry, they do not hesitate to give discounts or freebies.
The Missionaries of the Assumption Convent in Cabaguio also put up its own community pantries to cater to neighbors who need them the most.
“There was this boy who, after receiving a pack of rice, asked one of our Sisters if it is okay if he also donates the four sachets of coffee that he has. Some ladies also volunteered to sort out the vegetables. Another mother also said she will harvest her malunggay at home and donate it to the pantry. These small encounters manifest the eagerness of the common folk to give if they can. For context, our location is surrounded by urban poor communities,” said Sr. Flora Secuya, m.a., its coordinator.
“To share the blessings received to those who are hungry as a witness to the God of mercy and compassion; as well as to be the channel of resources from the generosity of people in as much as we are all gifted to give. This is Hope – Paglaum,” added Sr. Secuya when asked about their main motivation.
Davao City is now home to different community pantries located in Davao City Jail in Bucana, Mintal, Talomo, Mulig, Bangkal, Quezon Boulevard and Brokenshire College, while more and more people are intending to set up their own pantries in the coming days.