Brainstorming with family in Washington, DC led to Patreng’s Community Pantry

Patreng Non’s family, from left to right, his mother Zena Bernardo, Patreng and his siblings Jenny, Mox and Dyana. CONTRIBUTED

WASHINGTON, DC – The night before Patreng Non, 26, set up a community pantry on Maginhawa Street in her Quezon City neighborhood, she was on the phone with her older sister, Jenny, 32, who lives in Washington. , DC They had been talking regularly for several months about the dire conditions in the Philippines due to the pandemic and how job losses and unemployment made life more difficult for poor and low-income families. They spoke of their daily struggles, frustrated by the government’s slowness in providing relief.

But the telephone conversation on the night of April 16 took on a certain urgency. Patreng felt she had to do something right away but didn’t know how. They reflected on mutual aid and how it works. Jenny mentioned volunteering at community pantries in the DC metro area, helping cook Filipino dishes on Friday nights at St. Margaret’s Church and delivering them to around 200 homeless and low-income families. .

As Patreng listened to his sister, the idea of ​​a community pantry seemed more and more appealing and feasible. She didn’t get much sleep that night as she listed everything she needed to do the next morning: build a makeshift bamboo cart and use her savings to buy fruits, vegetables and other groceries. . She also spent time on her computer searching for food banks on Google and came across a phrase that summed up what she had in mind from the start: “Give what you can, get what you need.” After getting her mother’s help translating it, she scribbled the words on a notice board. “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan” (Give according to your abilities, take according to your needs) became the slogan that captured what Patreng envisioned.

A lifetime of community service

The message resonated widely. There are now over 800 community pantries across the country, thanks to Patreng and his family.

Jenny says their mother instilled a strong sense of helping and caring for the poor and needy when they were still children. “When we were growing up in Marikina there were always storms and floods and people spent days in evacuation centers,” recalls Jenny. “We were lucky that our house was on a hill. Our mother saw an urgent need for help, so our whole family brought food and mattresses for the evacuees. At other times, we would help our mother, who is a social worker, carry medicine when she volunteered for medical missions in Laguna, or reach out to the urban poor in Manila. So we were brought up to serve people and volunteering has become a normal part of our life. “

Today, since the start of the pandemic, Jenny’s mother has volunteered at hospitals and started a project called Bayanihan Marikenyo in Marikenya, which operates 31 kitchens that can serve around 500 people in need in their area.

She spent a month in the Philippines in 2008. While still in college, Jenny volunteered to teach math at Tondo, as part of a program called “Food for Hungry Minds”. Today, she is an engineer by profession and continues to offer her services whenever she can. She is also actively involved in the National Alliance for Philippine Concerns (NAFCON) DMV, a coalition of United States-based organizations and individuals that advocates for the needs and concerns of Filipinos in the United States and the United States. Philippines.

“An urgent need”

In a recent “Kuwentuhan with Ana Patricia Non on the Philippines Community Food Pantry Movement,” Patreng described how quickly all of the merchandise was gone on day one, with people still lined up. “They thought it was a rich person who had it all organized,” she said. “When they found out it was just one of their neighbors, the first people who came looking for food also became volunteers.”

People line up for free food supplies at the Maginhawa Community Pantry in Teachers' Village, Quezon City on Saturday, April 17, 2021, after the project went viral this week as more and more people donate food stocks on a small shelf where disadvantaged people can access but are told to only get what they need.INQUIER PHOTO / NIÑO JESUS ​​ORBETA

People line up for free food supplies at the Maginhawa Community Pantry in Teachers’ Village, Quezon City on Saturday, April 17, 2021, after the project went viral this week as more and more people donate food stocks on a small shelf where disadvantaged people can access but are told to only get what they need.INQUIER PHOTO / NIÑO JESUS ​​ORBETA

People are just waiting for someone to act because there is an urgent need, Patreng points out. “We just don’t want people to starve. “

Although embarrassed by the media attention, Patreng said it ensured her safety and that of the many volunteers who were falsely labeled “communists.” The “red marking”, she says, is “very serious and alarming” because being tied to the NPA can get you killed. “

“Temporary relief”

For Patreng, “The community pantry, however small, shows how we can help. Staying home and being safe is not an option. Our situation is dramatic. We have to help people survive. Our goal is to have a community pantry on every corner, but that is only a temporary relief while we wait for our government to act. “

She also explained how this initiative complements, and not competes, small businesses or street vendors. “We actually buy them the goods we give them, so in a way we honor their livelihood and help each other at the same time. It’s all about community.

Jenny encourages Filipino Americans to “pursue the bayanihan spirit” and to support NAFCON’s call “to come together to collectively support these actions and contribute to the sustainable provision of resources to communities in need.”

The donation link is: https://www.nafconusa.org/campaigns/communitypantryph/

In a statement released by Jenny to the media on April 25, “An OFW Supports Community Pantries,” Jenny further explains why the support of Community Pantries PH will allow more Filipinos overseas to connect with returning Filipinos. at their home :

“I was inspired by my little sister to support communities at home. I created a PayPal money pool to fundraise from my friends. This post was shared on social media and created controversy over why Americans would help community pantries in the Philippines. I volunteered with NAFCON DMV last year. We have worked through many Bayanihan campaigns in response to COVID-19, food fundraisers for D-1 workers and most recently the Typhoon Relief Campaigns. I have learned a lot over the past year about how the Filipinos in DMV are concerned about Filipinos in the Philippines.

Two months ago, we even worked on a community well-being survey for our region and asked our kababayans what their main concerns are in this time of pandemic. 86 percent of survey participants said they were concerned about their families’ livelihoods in the Philippines. It was no surprise to me that when the PayPal account was shared, the response from our Filipino communities in the United States was to support community pantries. Filipinos are known for their generosity, and supporting community pantries is a cause we can all support. I am grateful that NAFCON USA has launched the bayanihan campaign to support Community Pantries PH. I think this will allow more Filipinos overseas to support and connect with Filipinos at home. I encourage other national Filipino organizations to start their own community pantry fundraising efforts or to partner with NAFCON USA in this initiative.

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Norma P. Rex

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