Editorial: Pantry of conundrums

·3 min read

THERE seems to be a need to update the Wikipedia entry on “pantry” after the Philippines pioneered its revolutionary version of the “community pantry.”

Since the medieval age, pantries in Europe and America stored food, drink and other valuables like the family’s silverware. Wealthy families hired their own pantler, who ran a well-stocked pantry, a gauge of status.

In contemporary times, the pantry has been replaced by the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets and shelves for storage. Conscious of a family’s needs and resources, a housewife or husband still keeps the stocks of food and drink, if no longer under lock and key, at least under a watchful eye.

More than a week after the first community pantry was initiated by private citizen Ana Patricia Non in Barangay Maginhawa on April 14, hundreds of community pantries replicate across the nation ordinary Filipinos’ desire to share food and other essentials with citizens who are strangers only in name or face but not in their needs.

Unlike the proprietary European or American pantry, the Philippine variant is a communal solution to a community’s felt needs. Individuals, groups, or entities like a parish pitch in to operate a pantry whose indicators of excellence are not fully stocked shelves or well-guarded victuals but borrowed tables or improvised cabinets quickly emptied of the contributed provisions that are brought away to be cooked in several unknown kitchens or to fill stomachs that would otherwise have been left empty as community quarantines dried up jobs and livelihoods.

From the standpoint of community organization, the community pantry gauges the problem-solving and self-help capacities of a neighborhood. The actors feeling the scarcity of resources and vacuum of assistance and relief from outsiders are the same proponents assessing available resources and options to relieve the situation.

Beyond the functional, the community pantry manifests ordinary Filipinos’ empathy for others even though they are vulnerable themselves. The Maginhawa community pantry began with fruits and vegetables; farmers, fishers and other food producers who are starved of government support have not stinted in their generosity with fellow Filipinos whose deprivations they know too well.

This sense of collective identification with and ownership of a community pantry guarantees a degree of sustainability, which other better-funded and more publicized solutions planned and introduced by outsiders may not achieve. Unlike complicated solutions that require expertise, authority, or unlimited resources, the community pantry accommodates all contributions, regardless of status or wealth.

Through multiple reposting by netizens in social media, donated cups of “taho (a soya drink that fills Filipino wage earners’ need for an affordable breakfast on-the-go)” left by a street vendor in one community pantry becomes an emblem of the power of the “common tao” to have empathy for the vulnerable and the marginalized.

Social media (socmed) are not just channels disseminating information but also connectors of the community pantries set up on sidewalks, outside residences, or on parish grounds to the limitless virtual community that shares the stake in these local initiatives.

Using socmed, netizens create and share content that inspires volunteers and supporters for the pantries; generates contributions and the trail of transparency and accountability; aids in self-regulation among organizers and beneficiaries; and deepens discussions comparing the people’s initiatives with the responses of the government to the pandemic and the recession.

This public mobilization of food, drink and other essentials by citizens for citizens becomes a lens for scrutinizing a host of conundrums concerning society, from hunger to hope, self-help and governance. The community pantry is the Filipinos’ revolutionary contribution to not just the evolution of a concept but the coming together of a people.