At the height of COVID-19 lockdowns, Patricia Non's act of kindness sparked a movement that fed those in need across the country. Two years later, she hopes to tap the spirit of bayanihan again, this time, to "rescue" farmers and champion food sufficiency.
Driven by a desire to help her lockdown-stricken neighborhood get their next meal, Non in 2021 placed a small bamboo cart mostly filled with food supplies along Maginhawa Street in Quezon City.
The act inspired thousands of other community pantries, where people can get enough for their needs and donate whatever they can in return.
As the crisis eased, the movement that Non started is now being registered as a non-governmental organization that would focus on food self-sufficiency and availability, she said.
"Nagsu-support kami sa iba’t ibang pantries, pero pinapalalim namin ngayon na food availability and food sufficiency so sinu-support namin directly yung farmers, nagre-rescue tayo ng gulay," she said.
(We support various pantries, but we are aiming for food availability and food sufficiency so we are directly supporting farmers, we are rescuing vegetables.)
Days before Valentine's Day this year, the 28-year-old Non helped farmers sell vegetable bouquets online.
Around the same time, she helped a group of local onion growers sell their harvest ahead of the expected arrival of imported onions. She even went live on Facebook last week for a "sibuyas online selling."
The group's latest initiative sells "solidarity" shirts to raise funds for community pantries and kitchens for jeepney drivers who are on a weeklong transport strike.
Non, or "Patreng," as her friends call her, credits enthusiastic workers for keeping the organization running.
She said she is "just a fraction" of the group that includes many women volunteers from other community pantries.
“Marami kami, maraming volunteers kaya kaya,” Non told ABS-CBN News at her group’s headquarters in Quezon City on a sunny Tuesday, as other members prepared meals for jeepney drivers in the area.
"Ang galing ng mga nanay na organizer... sila 'yung laging nagre-repack, ang lalakas magbuhat, physical, pati sa organizing, pati sa diskarte," she said.
"Ang galing talaga, puro mga babae and LGBT."
(We have many volunteers so it's doable. Organizers who are also mothers are doing so well, they are good at repacking, they are physically strong, great at organizing and coming up with strategies. The members are mostly women or from the LGBT community.)
But Non also faced misogynistic remarks, baseless red-baiting allegations, and rape threats as the community pantry gained national spotlight.
While the criticism and threats initially consumed her, Non said she learned to ignore them to avoid being sidetracked from her advocacy.
"Hindi ko ibibigay 'yung energy ko dito kasi hindi ito 'yung intention ko. Ni-let go ko 'yung pagtatanggol sa sarili. Hindi ko ibibigay 'yung energy ko sa inyo kasi ang focus ko 'yung pantry, ang daming nagugutom," she said.
"Bakit ko kailangang i-explain kung sino ako? Bakit ko kailangang i-explain 'yung sarili ko kasi nagpa-pantry ako? And hindi naman ako nag-start ng pantry para makilala ako."
(I will not give my energy to this because this is not my intention. My focus is the pantry because many people are going hungry. Why do I need to explain who I am? I did not start a pantry so I could be popular.)
PERCEPTION OF WOMEN
Non believes that the community pantry also served as an opportunity to bring recognition to women.
"May idea sa babae na mahina, sa likod ka lang, dapat matapang ka 'pag babae kasi. Pero di pala kahinaan 'yung pagiging maawa, maintindihin, pagiging sensitive kasi alam mo kung ano 'yung pinakamalapit sa sikmura ng mga tao," she said.
(There is a perception that women are weak, they should be in the background, they should be brave. But it turns out that empathy and being sensitive are not weaknesses because you understand which things matter most to people.)
"Noong nag-pantry, puwede pala tayo maging matapang. Kaya pala natin."
(Through the pantries, we showed that we could be brave, that we can do it.)
She added: "Tapos ano 'yung empathy, 'yung pagiging sensitive sabi nila weakness 'yun pero para sa 'kin strength 'yun ng mga kababaihan—strength ko 'yun."
(Empathy, sensitivity are not weakness. Instead, for me, these are the strengths of women, these are my strengths.)
Non has received several accolades for organizing the pantry. Last year, she was hailed as one of the "real-life heroes" of the pandemic and was included among the 2022 TOWNS awardees.
Asked about her inspiration for the community pantry, Patreng said, "Actually, pinalaki kasi ako ng strong women."
"Mahirap din kapag pinalaki ka ng iba’t ibang malalakas na babae, nakaka-pressure. Pero ako ang inspiration ko sa totoo lang 'yung mga batang babae. 'Yung lumalaki pa lang, mas ginagawa ko ‘to para sa kanila kasi alam kong mas magaling sila," she said.
(I was raised by strong women. It's difficult because there is a lot of pressure. But I am also inspired by younger girls. I am doing this for them because I know that they could grow up to be greater.)
Non hopes that every young woman could have access to basic social services such as education and reproductive health in the future.
She also hopes for a safe community for every woman who wants to pursue her advocacies.
"Community na sabay-sabay nating ipinaglalaban 'yung karapatan natin, community na healthy at productive at mapagpalaya sa bawat isa," she added.
(I want a community where we can all fight for our rights, a healthy and productive community where everyone could be free.)
This article is part of the Amazing Women series of ABS-CBN News this month of March, featuring stories of select women who are making a mark in their respective fields. March is National Women's Month in the Philippines.