Our usually quiet neighborhood went viral last week, and I had to hear about it from my teenage daughter.
Inspired by the mushrooming community pantries around Metro Manila, our homeowners' association as well as other residents’ groups from nearby streets decided to set up a community pantry. The modest table was situated across the local parish and accessible to passersby. When it opened, the table boasted of basic ingredients for family meals, from eggs to fresh fruits to canned goods.
In just a few hours, the table’s offerings were nearly wiped out. Not because the community pantry drew hundreds among the needy, but according to the photos and videos uploaded on social media, a small group of women came ready with eco-bags and took more than their fair share. Clearly ignoring the sign that said “Give what you can, Take what you need”, they not only took eggs for their family’s consumption, but walked away with trays of 30 eggs at a time.
This sparked such an outrage that the table was not replenished. Last I checked, many residents have decided to dissuade one another from making contributions. Some also pointed their fingers at the informal settlers that pepper our neighborhood to be blamed.
As for those who enthusiastically embraced the community pantry’s supplies, these women’s faces were visible in the photos and videos taken. And when the social media post went viral, I saw one of them replied explaining they took that much because they intended to share with their neighbors too, who are also in need.
Who is right and who is wrong? There are at least 50 shades of gray in this one. My humble view is that when you give, you do not look back and see who took what you freely offered.
It should not matter if they are informal settlers, or they appear to have taken advantage of the gift. Once you give, your hands need to let go.
Now when you take, you are responsible with the gift offered. These community pantries work when everyone follows the basic rules of giving according to what you can afford and taking only what you need to feed your family for a day or two. If you feel your neighbors also have need, then take them along with you. With the excess and many feel, abuse, in the end we all lost out on the opportunity to help and be helped.
I hope our experience did not sour others from setting up and continuing their community pantries. If you are looking to do the same, here are 5 things to remember:
#1 Get your neighborhood organized.
Unless you can fund this on your own, it’s good to solicit support from others. Not only will you have more donors, you can also have more volunteers. You can assign a Daily Monitor to track donations and ensure replenishment.
#2 Reach out to the local barangay.
Any community pantry will naturally use public resources. To get good traffic, you have to set up on an accessible street, which you likely do not own. If you draw the needy, there could be a long line and cause a disturbance. Getting the barangay’s approval and support can only be a good thing.
#3 No to red tape but yes to transparency.
Several Metro Manila mayors have announced via media that community pantries do not require permits. That’s one red tape you don’t have to live with. But because you will be receiving donations, and distributing them to strangers, it is good to have a public way of acknowledging the former and somehow documenting the latter. Some have used social media or messaging group chats to post each time donations are made, and to also post at different times of the day how the goods are being collected and what’s left at closing time.
#4 Location, location, location.
Do not expect your community pantry to become a success on Day One. Location plays an important part in getting donors and also drawing the needy to come. Your barangay can also help here as they may have suggestions on the best spot. And if your pantry attracts long lines, the barangay can also help maintain order and safety for the crowd.
#5 If there’s a will to give, there will be a way to receive.
There is no strict formula for success – but as long as you are willing to give, there will be a way to find the people in your community that needs a helping hand in these difficult days.
In the case of our neighborhood, we have not given up. Later this week, we hope to feed at least 1,000 through our “Kalinga sa Panahon ng Pandemya” (Help in the time of pandemic) with “lugaw” or the Filipino version of congee. May this comfort food not only fill the stomachs of our guests but also warm their hearts and ours as we keep our faith and hope in these times.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.