Community pantry: Day 30
Day 30 and the thought in everyone’s heads now is how long the community pantries can keep standing. In a country so used to praying for miracles, for knockout punches in the early rounds, for a win at the lotto, community pantries sprout and face the question of sustainability, with the immediate and unfair expectation that it would save mankind.
But this ambitiousness is difficult to temper because the community pantries are, as Glenn Diaz writing for the New York Times put it, the “first drops of rain landing on parched earth.” Ana Patricia Non sparked a ton of hope last April 14, and more than 6,700 community pantries (per the Department of the Interior and Local Government’s tally) have since taken root, keeping the fire Patreng started burning. While the pandemic and the poor government response continue to bulldoze everything in their path, communities have committed to something we can all be thankful for every day.
I sat down in some of the webinars assembled discussing the phenomenon of community pantries to listen to the experiences of members of the Non family in ground zero, and also to find out how the experience has been for other pantries elsewhere. In a talk with Prof. Jio Guiang and Assistant Prof. Dakila Yee on Facebook, Patreng recalled how learning protest art theory in her time at the UP College of Fine Arts seeded the thought of placing a cart of food by a sidewalk on Maginhawa Street, at once disrupting order and giving the makeshift installation meaning outside the artwork’s creator. She also talked about food security being the community pantry’s primary advocacy: How food is a basic human need that governs all our days and touches on too many aspects of living.
In other webinars, Patreng and her eldest sister Jenny talked about institutionalizing the pantries, tying up with local governments, making direct arrangements with farmers and other suppliers, peaceably facing the police, and digitizing the existing pantries to even out the distribution of goods. This complex groundwork is probably why those one-trick ponies, Lorraine Badoy and Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr., couldn’t even begin to fathom the bold truth and simplicity in the community pantry mantra “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan. Kumuha batay sa pangangailangan.”
The feeling one got from these webinars was that there is daunting work to be done in so little time, and in this pandemic, too. Outside, there are vultures who are using the moment in anticipation of next year’s elections. But the communities, the pantry organizers, and the Nons in particular are all committed to keeping the flame lit. It must also be said that in giving what one could, these people and communities have given way more than anyone could ask for.
The Non children have been my friends since college; Michael, my orgmate in undergrad at the UP Asosasyon ng mga Kabataang Artista, Kritiko, at Iskolar ng Sining at Kultura (UP Asterisk); and Patreng, later also an orgmate at the UP Mountaineers. It was a good 10 years ago when Michael and I and some of our orgmates spent evenings to mornings arguing about ways to change the world, drinking at Sarah’s (a watering hole in Barangay Krus na Ligas) then transferring to our orgmates’ apartments come closing time. Dyana, their older sister, and Michael were known in our circles to be indefatigable in their principles. Little did we know that it was Patreng, the youngest, who would get the limelight and stand out so strongly at this harsh and cruel time. Even so, I’m sure Patreng would be the last person to take any credit for all the good she has done. She has elevated the community first, served the masses first. It is even clearer now, after all the threats and the praises she has received, that she was built for this.
When it comes down to it, the survival and longevity of the community pantries require real hard work and elbow grease. But one of the many things the past 30 days has reminded us is how we dreamt of a fairer world when we were younger, and that vision answers the question of the pantry’s sustainability easily: Isn’t carrying on with this simply the right thing to do?
I end with a line from David Graeber, the anthropologist: “The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make and could just as easily make differently.”
DLS Pineda is an educator in Agusan del Norte. He finished his BA and MA in Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
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