Contrary to how we see the community pantry as a sensationalized means to depict generosity in its prime, there are certain realities that might overwhelm people especially to those who are driven by sheer compassion and a genuine sense of responsibility towards their fellow.
Most people want to refresh themselves with a somewhat morally-cleansing activity to help the community in times of need.
I, for one, am among those who simply needed a break from the robotic demands of the workplace. Initially, I thought of the community pantry as a means to remind myself of my worth; that I am more than my salary job, that I am still capable of compassion. However, I encountered some events that definitely changed my viewpoints in its entirety.
For one, I had this sort of awareness towards how people might cause chaos while claiming the items from the pantry.
Based on the news, some people from the middle-class had already committed an act that indeed tarnished the cause and eventually led to discouraging people to help. These people took more than what they needed and pretty much emptied the pantry.
On site, I observed that the marginalized sector had a different sense of responsibility towards other people. More than anyone, it is the poor who appreciates help the most, and it is the poor who gives value to all forms of generosity the most.
Elephant in the room
However, I want to be totally honest in this essay (otherwise I am just fooling myself with an empty rhetoric). At some point, some members from the marginalized sector of the beneficiary community are taking twice the prescribed portions (one of each item).
Some families encouraged their kids to claim the goods to get twice the portion. And after they realized that the supplies are running low, every single one of the recipients suddenly got out of control and rushed to the front, disregarding social distancing protocols in the process of it.
The words “Kumuha batay sa pangangailangan, Magbigay batay sa Kakayahan,” for me now seems to be so riddled with ambiguity to a point that it puts a blind sense of trust (or should I call it convenient faith) to those who are not expected to act in a certain way.
Denied of aid
But I do not blame the community for acting that way. In fact, what I saw in that event is not a group of people taking advantage of each other: it is a group of people that has been denied of any opportunity to receive aid for so long.
It is a group of mothers and fathers who, despite being hungry, worry more about their children’s bellies.
It is a group of people victimized by joblessness—those who were laid off, and those who just weren’t able to find a job.
It is a group of people who spent their days worrying about where to find money for food and other basic necessities.
I can only imagine the desperation they feel in these trying times.
In times when people are facing chaos, it is terribly unfair for us to expect that people would be seen as still working together. We relish the fact that we see people helping one another.
We love the idea of Bayanihan in action, presenting pictures of people passing on food to other people, pictures of the elderly who are shy when it comes to taking their portions, pictures of children who arrived at the pantry with holes on the soles of their slippers.
How dare we romanticize their struggle?
Everything is in chaos: how can we stomach the fact that we still believe in order when the prevailing system of order itself abandoned them and failed to provide people with the bare minimum and necessities that they justifiably need?
In that event, it is not even an initiative anymore. It becomes demanding and scripted.
It is with this realization that I have made my conclusion: the community pantry can only go so far.
Eventually, the community pantry will run out of stock.
Eventually, the community pantry will run out of volunteers.
But what does that mean to us?
What does an empty community pantry mean to all of us?
It simply means that we tried, and that we are capable of so much more.
The fact that we took the initiative to help people despite our own versions of scarcity and our own worlds of chaos is already praiseworthy. And in times when the pantry has nothing to offer, we cannot help but blame ourselves for not offering help to those whom you swore to help.
Not a one-time gig
Organizing a community pantry is not a one-time gig. The community pantry requires a lot of effort coming from people who wish to help those in need despite them struggling as well.
Every single one of us are blindly pawing through this pandemic, and we are only left with uncertainty—How long will I have this job? How long will I keep going through with my studies? How far will my budget take me?
We are all filled with doubt. But we still rose to the occasion and responded to the call of those who are in dire need. And that, in itself, is admirable.
We have to understand that the purpose of establishing a community pantry is not centered to keeping it fully-stocked. Establishing a community pantry is a means for people to recognize that there are those beyond them who are suffering far worse than they could imagine. It is a means for people to view themselves not as helpless victims, but as an empowered people capable of instilling change through their own ways, by their own means.
The community pantry is a means to call upon those who have an even higher authority to do more than what they should. It is a wake-up call for authorities who work in air-conditioned offices, to those authorities who sleep well at night with their kulambo, to those authorities who still have the gall to go on a vacation while their constituencies are left to suffer the unimaginable.
The community pantry is a means to revolt.
An empty community pantry is a means to tell that the pantry has served its purpose.
It is with this that we realize that even collective action needs time to recollect their resources, to restock, and return with even greater forms, and in even greater numbers.
But again, the community pantry can only go so far.
Therefore, it is a must for us to come up with even more ways to give, with even more ways to help, and with even more ways to unite.
Photo Credits: Geff Lester Pocdol
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About the Author
John Thimoty Romero is a licensed professional teacher, a graduate of Philippine Normal University – Manila last 2017 as Bachelor of Secondary Education – Major in English. Upon his graduation, he received the Gawad Graciano Lopez – Jaena Co-Curricular Award for Campus Journalism.
He is the founder of Essays Against Mediocrity, a website dedicated to support independent authors, poets, and other content creators.