It started with a small bamboo cart with canned goods, some fresh produce, a bottle of hand sanitizer, and a couple of signs above it. One to tell us what it was, “Maginhawa Community Pantry,”. The other to tell us what to do with it:magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan”, or, “give according to ability, take based on need” in English.

News media platforms immediately took notice of the cart at Maginhawa Street. The concept of the “community pantry” went viral. It inspired many others to do the same in their own neighborhoods.

Not even a month since the first community pantry was put up, hundreds of pantries are all over the Philippines.

The practice even reached Timor-Leste after the Filipino community there showed the viral concept to the Timorese. Some pantries have also gone beyond collecting food. They are sharing sexual and reproductive health information (i.e. hotlines for free HIV testing and gender-based violence support) and commodities, such as condoms and napkins. Community pharmacies offering vitamins and over-the-counter drugs have also sprung up. 

Ana Patricia Non, the young woman behind the first community pantry, had a much simpler initial idea than what it has become. She started a place “where I can place that extra food and I know someone who needs it can take it,”. But she also understood why the pantries are attracting crowds everywhere. …because many people are going hungry and need help to get food”.

The Philippines is still very much in the thick of the pandemic.

The country has gone through various iterations of community quarantine since March last year. A surge in cases in February has once again overwhelmed our healthcare systems and forced stricter lockdowns in urban centers. Some of the most affected populations in this pandemic are minimum-wage workers and informal workers. They have either lost their jobs as a result of businesses closing. Or they continue to work under no-work-no-pay schemes that force them to risk infection every day to earn a living. During difficult times, community pantries can offer people some respite.

Yet this innocuous effort has caught the attention and ire of some government officials. They state that the pantries are the work of communists, who the Philippine President declares are terrorists. In the past weeks, police were roaming communities and asking for information about community pantry organizers. Despite this, the pantries continue to survive and draw crowds and supporters. 

The ‘success’ of the community pantries belies an awful reality. Calls for the government to provide adequate aid have fallen on deaf ears. But, it also carries a message of hope: that even when we can no longer count on our leaders, we can still count on each other.

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