Asia West Pacific

Community Pantries in the Philippines: A Courageous Act of Goodness

By Kins Aparece

Lawis Booy Community Pantry with one of its volunteers. Photo: Kins Aparece

An inspiring wave of goodness swept the Philippines in the middle of  April when a  group of friends at Maginhawa St., Quezon City, set up a community pantry.  Slogans like “stand with the poor,” “magbigay ayon sa kakayahan” (give according to one’s capacity, take according to one’s need).   It is a mutual aid movement beyond charity and hopes to debunk the idea that the poor cannot give.  Instead of waiting for government aid to reach the needy,  communities can do their share and volunteer to help.

 On my island, Plastic Free Bohol set up a community pantry in Panglao where communities suffer from unemployment and hunger due to the closure of tourism-related businesses.  The group used to do a weekly food pack distribution to select communities last year until February 2021.  However, the money sent from friends abroad was dwindling, and setting up a pantry based on mutual aid was a welcome idea.  The pantry is single-use plastic-free and promotes the preparation of healthy and nutritious food by sharing fresh vegetables.

 Two other friends of mine set up community pantries in their neighborhoods and many others stepped up. Families, neighbors, and friends got together to volunteer, donate, and tell others about the initiative.  It is a perfect reminder that Filipinos can equally share and give at the same time.  Amazingly, we see the determination of the young organizers and the commitment of the volunteers from all walks of life.  There are many people called to serve in this challenging time.

Community Pantry at Atbang’s Bolhigh is located at the heart of Tagbilaran City.  Photo:  Atbang’s Bolhigh Community Pantry

Alona Community Pantry run by Plastic Free Bohol promotes healthy food and plastic free products. Photo: Jam Ungab

Will this last, and for how long? Some skeptics question the sustainability of community pantries.  Is this the right thing to do?  Are people capable of taking enough for what they need? Can we grow a mutual aid movement amidst the pandemic?  Last week, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) started to visit community pantry organizers nationally and discredited some of its leading figures.  Many human rights groups condemned this act of profiling the community organizers by a body organized to implement the enhanced Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020.   They likened it to acts of  “red-tagging.” The action is severe because once a person or group gets red-tagged, this may lead to unlawful detentions and killings.

However, despite the security concerns and fears raised by the pantry organizers, they continued operation.  More community-led pantries spread all over the country, and financial support increased after unjust red-tagging.  No less than the Supreme Court asked the National Security adviser to explain the incidence of red-tagging.  Indeed, we cannot stop people from doing good.

 It is exciting to see daily innovations in action.  At Atbang’s Bolhigh, they decided to pack the goods to avoid less human traffic.  They also limited the distribution to three hours in the morning with a target number of beneficiaries for the day.  At the Lawis Community Pantry, the community leaders decided to pre-determine the families who will get the goods daily.  It is crucial to have volunteers who know the people in the community directly.    Also, promoting transparency in terms of receiving donations inspires people to give more.  

 Simple acts of goodness are a breath of fresh air in this challenging time.

 Note:  Community Pantry is a relatively new concept for Filipinos.  We would love to hear more stories and experiences from everybody.  Those wanting to help are also most welcome. Please email to: asia.coordinator@friendspeaceteams.org