Lessons Learned From Setting Up A Community Pantry

Indigenous and urban poor communities have been struggling long before the pandemic, and now, with the effects of COVID-19 still evident, people continue to find ways to uplift these communities and spread awareness of their current situations. With businesses shutting down or cutting expenses, several people have lost their sources of income in a time where money is very hard to come by and needed most. These struggles may only seem apparent for larger companies but are much bigger for smaller businesses and regular employees.

Franchesca Co is one of the organizers of a community pantry located in Barangay Diteki, San Luis, Aurora. Her idea of starting a community pantry was inspired by the news regarding the Maginhawa community pantry. She saw community pantries as a symbol that significantly shook up the status quo. This showed the awareness of Filipinos and the concept of bayanihan.

“This created a wave of love and care for the marginalized sectors of society that are the most vulnerable during COVID, and I just wanted to be a part of something so simple yet revolutionary.”

She had a vision to take part in this initiative, and she started the journey by reaching out to people that have had experience in organizing a community pantry in Baler, Aurora for guidance in finding the best location to put one up. Though she ran into a number of setbacks, eventually, one of her posts in a private group of merchants in Aurora reached Hayreen, who had the same idea in mind. This led to them setting up a community pantry in Barangay Diteki in San Luis, Aurora.

“During my visits to Diteki to get to know the community, most members of the Aeta community, including their chieftain, were vocal about experiencing discrimination which has been affecting their chances of employment and livelihood opportunities.”

As she was exposed to vulnerable communities, Franchesca has learned more about the struggles that these people deal with, even long before the pandemic. The Philippines is facing an economic crisis and has trickles down to businesses and employees. With this, for these communities, the struggles have only doubled since the pre-pandemic days with opportunities being extremely limited for every individual, whether it be with a company or their own small business ventures.

As an organizer, it would be assumed by the majority that they are heavily involved with these community pantries, but on the contrary, their involvement has actually been very limited. Though they initially immersed themselves in the community for a few days to put them on the map, bring in donations, and understand how a community pantry works, once they grasped the full concept of these initiatives, eventually the locals of Barangay Diteki took over and managed the pantry themselves. 

Moreover, as they continue to search for ways to navigate through this extremely tough time, not everyone has the access to necessities. With all the travel restrictions due to the lockdown, people in Barangay Diteki can only find supermarkets in Baler or Maria Aurora, both of which are in different municipalities. Without public transportation or a source of income, reaching these distant places are only accessible to a few as everyone is ultimately trying to limit expenses.

Community pantries help these communities through mutual aid. The number of communities and individuals working together to keep these community pantries running does not only help provide necessities to those in need, but it also amplifies the impact of the movement by shedding light on the issues that these people are facing with an added extraordinary health crisis.

“I loved how it empowered the people to bridge the social gaps starting with something as simple as food. I feel like there was a major breakthrough when I started hearing news about farmers starting to lower their prices for community pantries, and some even donating produce to avoid spoilage.”

As we all move on from COVID-19, let’s not forget to bring our fellow Filipinos along. Our troubles may seem big, but the struggles of others are much deeper. Whether you volunteer, send donations, or even just spread awareness, these simple acts of kindness can go a long way for the members of these communities in need. 

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