Community pantries should be supported, not discouraged

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Food security has always been a serious issue for the Philippines, particularly because a nation that calls itself an agricultural country shouldn’t have citizens who go hungry. This was the case before the pandemic, and now it’s only gotten worse.

The week has been a wild one in terms of food security. One of the most talked about was the opening of a food pantry in Maginhawa street where people could take as much as they needed free of charge and also donate according to what they could afford. This led to other food pantries being established all over the country, and also to an outpouring of support from citizens, as well as farmers and fishers who gave, as the signs on these pantries say, “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

Perhaps it was because this quote was from German philosopher and communist advocate Karl Marx that led to the movement being red-tagged and the Maginhawa pantry’s founder Ana Patricia Non being accused of harboring less than honorable intentions. And though yes, sometimes a quote can carry a deeper message that may be used to fire up the imaginations of its readers, a lot of the time, words are just words. To me at least, that the cards that bear the Marx quote doesn’t say who said it and isn’t even presented as a quote at all says that it was probably just used as an instruction and not anything else.

That a movement aimed to facilitate mutual aid is suspected of nefarious motives is misguided at best, especially during a time when many people have lost their livelihoods and have little to no means to secure their daily sustenance. That there are attempts to block endeavors like this is extremely tone deaf (again, at best), especially since for many people, these pantries are all that stand between them and going hungry.

That these pantries are extremely successful is not only a testament to the human desire to help others, but also shows that there is a need that is being filled. There aren’t enough official programs to keep marginalized folks fed, and community pantries are stepping in to fill this gap. Regular citizens are given the opportunity to safely and directly help fellow Filipinos, with no pressure and no strings attached. If all you can donate is a single canned good, for example, you can drop it off knowing that it will be appreciated.

Thankfully, many LGUs have officially voiced their support for these citizen-led endeavors. Everyone is short-staffed and resources are stretched thin, so any help is appreciated.

One of the best and most underrated things about the community pantry is that its recipients choose what to get. This is a tiny bit of decency and empowerment not usually found in endeavors like these, usually due to necessity (such as during relief operations where everything has to be streamlined because there are many mouths to feed), but also due to the prevailing notion that the poor don’t know how to think for themselves. The activity around these community pantries show that the latter is a flawed way of thinking. Perhaps it’s time to stop dictating what marginalized people “should” be doing and give them access to the tools and resources so they can make their own decisions instead.

I personally hope that community pantries stop being necessary. I think this is what its organizers hope for as well. Because once they are not needed, it will mean that everyone has access to reasonably-priced, nutritious food (ideally supplied by well-compensated local farmers). Community pantries aren’t supposed to be sustainable. They’re supposed to be a stopgap measure until better systems are put into place.

Meanwhile, if people want to help other people, they should be free to do so without fear of being accused of harboring nefarious intentions. The country’s hunger situation is much too dire to let innocent people suffer for the sake of squashing an ideology that isn’t there to begin with.

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Yvette Tan
Yvette Tan is Agriculture magazine's managing editor’s web editor. She is an award-winning writer who likes to eat, travel, and listen to stories about the strange and supernatural. She is dedicated to encouraging people to push for sustainable food sources and is an advocate of food security, food sovereignty, and the preservation of community foodways.

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