Community pantry movement: Share and stave off hunger

By Jeraldine Pascual

Coverage did not say it outright, but the movement was an

indictment of the government’s failed pandemic response,

especially in the area of compensating for loss of jobs by providing

basic necessities for those in need. 

THE PANDEMIC disrupted life and livelihood, causing more misery which evaded measurement unlike the number of Covid-19 cases. Restrictions on mobility, the closure of schools, the jobs that were lost all had impact that have yet to be fully understood. 

It exacerbated the already huge problem of hunger and malnutrition, as the long and draconian solution of repetitive lockdowns hit daily earners the hardest.

But the worst of times do have a way of bringing out the best in people. 

With a simple bamboo cart filled with canned goods and vegetables, Ana Patricia Non, a 26 year-old entrepreneur in Quezon City set up a station which she dubbed as “community pantry.” Non’s slogan spread the message: “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan.” (Give what you can, take only what you need.)

Other communities picked up the idea and responded by setting up feeding stations not just in different areas of Metropolitan Manila but also in the provinces. Those who lined up did respect this principle. Those who had no need for free food contributed to supplies. Even the poor gave freely what they could. Ironically, the poorest of the poor, including fishermen and farmers, shared their catch and crops.

Media did not fail to document this bright spot amid the pandemic; it was the Filipino concept of “bayanihan” (community spirit) in action. The community pantry movement made the front pages and led TV newscasts with photos and videos of ordinary citizens sharing, and further encouraged more people to participate. Journalists followed developments diligently, checking how much aid poured in for the day and how many people benefitted from the pantries. 

Coverage did not say it outright, but the movement was an indictment of the government’s failed pandemic response, especially in the area of compensating for loss of jobs by providing basic necessities for those in need. 

For all its good intentions, the community pantry movement still found critics among the police and military, who accused the founder for using the venue for recruitment to the Communist Party of the Philippines. When the police began hanging around the station on Maginhawa Street asking Non for her contact details, she closed down the service temporarily to protect herself. 

Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr., then spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), confirmed that community pantry organizers were under surveillance.

Even the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) raised concerns about community pantries having no permits and proper coordination with the respective LGUs. Fearing possible superspreaders, the DILG, the NTF-ELCAC and even some barangay officials urged community pantry organizers to deliver house-to-house instead. But Mayor Joy Belmonte of Quezon City begged to differ, taking the side of Non and others who had established community pantries within her jurisdiction. 

Media picked up on these controversial reactions from the government. But much of the coverage focused on the good news, hailing the movement as a sign of strength of ordinary community spirit and solidarity with those in need. 

Non was awarded the Gawad Parangal by the Quezon City government in October, a well-deserved recognition. Earlier in August, as the capital faced another lockdown due to the Delta variant surge, Non renewed calls for donations on her Facebook account, but she posed a challenge to everyone: “Let us not be afraid or ashamed to ask our leaders for accountability. It’s time for them to act.”