FYI: When People Take ‘Ayuda’ Matters into their Own Hands, That’s the Spirit of Community, Not Propaganda

Narratives & Perspectives

On April 14, a cart full of food and necessities went viral online for its initiative to support Filipinos forgotten about during this pandemic. Less than a week later, other inspired community pantries sprout across the Philippines, causing a flooding of heartwarming stories on solidarity, humanity, and the classic spirit of ‘bayanihan’.

PHILIPPINES—It’s not an exaggeration to say that the “community pantry” movement has awoken some part within Filipinos that’s been buried underneath all our depression and anger for months, because of the current situation of our country. For so long amid this pandemic, we’ve all felt some level of helplessness and hopelessness, even in matters of charity. This is all rooted in our feelings of ineptitude when it comes to really making a difference, especially when other, more powerful, forces seem to be blocking all our efforts to help one another.

Yet, one unassuming cart has inspired a massive grassroots movement to provide for the unprovided, and to serve the underserved within our society. Driven by the need to take matters into our own hands when it comes to social justice and public service, a beautiful show of bayanihan has blossomed in a matter of days.

The movement was led by the Maginhawa Community Pantry that opened on April 14, 2021—one cart that unintentionally sparked a whole movement not limited to the capital that has remained under stricter restrictions of the government-imposed quarantine. Furniture business owner Ana Patricia Non left a simple cart with canned goods, vegetables, and other necessities along the busy street of Maginhawa in Quezon City, with signages that read, “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, Kumuha batay sa pangangailangan.” (Give what you can, take what you need.)

Within 24 hours, bystanders have reported city sweepers and construction workers each taking a few of the supplies, until it eventually ran out. Only to be replenished time and time again by donations from the community, and Non’s own contributions. Not a week later, and several other citizens have replicated this initiative in their own immediate communities, sparking a purely citizen-led movement to help one another in this time of dire need.

As of today, more and more community pantries have dotted the map with over-pouring resources from unnamed, “un-tarpaulined” donors, with heartwarming stories popping up from each one. Even farmers, fishermen, and other groups who are also often lacking in resources have shared their own crops and possible sources of income to the movement, just to contribute to this stunning display of community and solidarity.

However, if we really think about it, there is more to this community pantry movement than just another donation drive for the masses. There are several pain points Filipinos have been feeling for a while now that this humble campaign has touched on, resulting to its organic success and growth.

First, it’s the very real calling within Filipinos to help one another selflessly in times of need, often buried by questions of “how” and “why” by other organizations who capitalize on the lack of resources for these aforementioned necessities. When Non opened the community quarantine in Maginhawa, and it proved that helping can still **be done without the threats of capitalism, others naturally followed.

Secondly, it efficiently debunked the notion that every Filipino is out for themselves at this time of crisis, as is often broadcasted in news stories of theft, sabotage, and supply hoarding. In fact, many testaments online provide sufficient proof that one of the reasons community pantries work is that people only get what they need, without feeling the urge to get more in case it runs out.

It’s this collective desire to make sure everybody in the line has something to eat at the end of the day that maintains the spirit of solidarity within these communities, completely removing the feeling that they have to “one up” the others and get more than their fair share.

Lastly, underneath this innate desire to help out is a fiery sense of purpose from the people to fill in the gaps of our leaders’ inadequate support. At the very root of it, Filipinos are showing up for one another because we feel wholly abandoned by the very institutions that should be supplying these initiatives in the first place. As it is, citizens have only received a small amount each from the supposed “relief fund”—a heartbreaking amount when we consider the reality of inflation in this pandemic.

Hence, the perfect solution of a community pantry where everything is free, and those who have more can generously give directly to those who have less. 

So, although this entire community-driven initiative is a wonderful display of bayanihan and togetherness in this time of seeming isolation, let us not forget that the main reason this is being done in the first place is the glaring lack of institutional and financial support for those who need them. This is apparent in the amount of people who have been showing up to these community pantries, and the scale of generosity that has allowed for it to be sustained it thus far.

As recent news updates report that the movement is currently receiving uncalled for profiling and red tagging by police forces, there’s a greater call for unity to ensure it does not topple all the efforts made BY the Filipino people, FOR the Filipino, purely from the goodness of their hearts.

Currently, people are raging online as malicious forces seem to be spreading false information that the community pantry initiative is backed by the “communist party” as a way to recruit new members. Hence, the project has attracted the critical eye of the government that’s trying to ensure it’s not promoting anything dangerous to the state. 

Heartbreakingly, because of this, Non, today, had announced temporarily halting operations for the Maginhawa Community Pantry distributions in fear for her and volunteers’ safety. As a result, people in line waiting for hours had to go home empty-handed, with the renewed, and even graver anxiety of where to get food for their families. On top of that, organizers behind the different community pantries across the country also grow in fear, in danger of ultimately deciding to discontinue the project, because of separate instances of uncalled for “pressure” resulting from malice by those in power.

Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto, in a post, highlighted that there’s no need for a “permit to help” following contradictory statements made by some government agencies who note that there’s a necessary permits have to be secured through the LGUs before community pantries have to be organized.

In the end, the true victims from possibly closing down community pantries will remain to be the same people on the streets and crowded barangays who are hungry and unprovided for. We can only hope and aspire that the state will recognize the massive help this movement brings to the Filipino people and refrain from adding malice to its noble intention.

After all, our society has come to the point in which regular citizens answer the call, “If not us, then who?” when it comes to providing aid for one another, and relieving each other of burdens brought about and worsened by the pandemic.

It’s both a heartwarming and a heartbreaking sight that speaks volumes on the Philippines’ current social, cultural, and political climate. We only hope it doesn’t get nipped in the bud even before its golden, noble message of solidarity and community fully transmits and trickles down to every single Filipino in the country.

Additional text by Leo Balante