Ana Patricia Non Reveals The Community Pantry's True Purpose
I don’t get starstruck,” Ana Patricia Non said. “I see people equally, so status is not something I look at.” Non, better known to her peers as “Patreng”, sat across from me and sipped from a cup of tea. This was her first photoshoot since her high school prom, so she was very excited. The bubbly 26-year-old looked every bit the confident personality she seemed to be on TV. Non is the progenitor of the Maginhawa Community Pantry, which has since begotten 6,700 other pantries across the country and counting. Despite the massive achievement and endless accolades from the press and government agencies (not to mention, thousands, if not millions of supporters online), she was humble, warm and very easy to talk to.
A few years ago, Non was knee-deep in the corporate world with a job in Sales. “I thought I had to please other people, that I needed to be successful. It never occurred to me that it was possible to help others, much less start a movement.” She was pursuing a life she believed was necessary, working towards buying a house, owning her own car—the trappings of a regular 20-year-old starting her career. Yet, Non shared that she always had a penchant for lending a helping hand. Once in college, a schoolmate whose mother had cancer had gone around asking for people to donate blood; Non signed up immediately. “Go talaga ako (I did not hesitate).” She was known to be generous, so much so that her professors often advised her, “take care of yourself first before others”.
I realised I had to live for myself. We go through life ... we don’t like what we eat, we’re overworked at our jobs, we forget the essentials.
On her way to fulfilling what she thought were her dreams, Non suddenly lost a dear friend, whose passing she related was a turning point in her life. “I realised I had to live for myself. We go through life ... we don’t like what we eat, we’re overworked at our jobs, we forget the essentials.” Her friend, she noted, was someone she deeply admired—an artist-activist that lived life to the fullest. She wanted to be like that too. When the announcement for a major lockdown was to commence in her city, Non had an hour to rush to the grocery and get back before curfew. It was mayhem. “I hoarded so much.” Quarantine ensued and as early as the second day, Non knew she had to do something. With a surplus of goods in her living room and seeing the plight of people on TV and on social media, she couldn’t sit still much longer.
“I Googled ‘community pantry’ and I saw the phrase ‘give what you can, take what you need’”. The slogan has since gone viral online, translated to Filipino (Tagalog) as ‘magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha ayon sa pangangailangan’. “My sister based in Palawan translated it for me. The next day, I placed a bamboo cart with surplus goods outside and put up the sign—hoping to help anyone,” Non shared. The first few days were a struggle, she noted. “Once, I had to wait for hours staring at my GCash account, hoping for any donation to come in so I could buy more vegetables [to share at the pantry].”
See Also: How The Community Pantry Efforts In Metro Manila Prove Modern-Day Bayanihan
Several months and 6,700 pantries later, Non is elated that her small act of kindness had evolved into something so impactful. In fact, the movement has become a micro-economy in and of itself. “We buy from local farmers, fishermen, Yakult and empanada [small bun with filling] vendors, even the closed down restaurants in the area—we order from them,” she says proudly.
Many fellow Filipinos have been so moved by the efforts that they’ve put up their own carts outside their houses. Non-mentions, however, that pantries who officially register with them will be able to get access to the monetary donations they receive or fresh produce they acquire from suppliers. It has become such a strong system that even when someone in the neighbourhood needs help, the pantry organisers act like first responders, sourcing needs and providing any assistance required of them.
Still, as with any burgeoning leader, Non was not immune to naysayers and even discrimination. As the community pantry efforts grew in number and popularity, the Quezon City Police Department (QCPD) insinuated in a now-deleted Facebook post that the Maginhawa Community Pantry run by Non was associated with the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines - New People’s Army), which is recognised as the longest-running leftist insurgency in the world. Now ‘red-tagged, Non had no choice but to put a pause to the pantry. “I couldn’t sleep. All I was thinking about was the people who will line up the next day, looking for food, wondering why I wasn’t there for them.” She felt betrayed, she said. “It was as if the people had turned their backs on me when all I wanted to do was help.”
As fellow organisers and supporters of the movement rallied behind Non, the issue began to subside with the QCPD officially recanting its statement. Today, the pantry continues to thrive but Non-shares that donations have been wavering. “I’m not too worried though, because the point of the pantry is to give what you can, and if this is all we can manage, for now, that’s okay.”
Read also: Community Pantry Efforts In Metro Manila
When the time comes that the community pantry is no longer needed, I will be glad,” Non tells me. “Because that means people are no longer hungry
When asked what her biggest takeaway from the whole experience was, she had this to say, “The answer is within us ... We have to be grounded and identify ourselves as part of the masses. I’m no saviour; [those who come to the pantry] have saved me as much as I have saved them and together, we can also save our community.”
The community pantry movement has revived in each of us the idea of kapwa, which scholar Virgilio Enriquez roughly translates as ‘the unity of the self and other’. Through mutual aid, we are reminded that our existence goes beyond just ourselves. It only takes a second look at a person to realise that despite our differences, we all have a shared humanity. As we go through the last long stretch of this pandemic, we cannot forget that its devastation remains real and deeply felt, especially by the vulnerable sectors of our society.
Compassion is the biggest currency we have. And if all it takes is a few bags of rice, vegetables and canned goods, it’s a small price to pay for another’s welfare and joy in the midst of a tempest. “When the time comes that the community pantry is no longer needed, I will be glad,” Non tells me. “Because that means people are no longer hungry.
Although it seems like much still needs to be done as cases continue to rise in the country, Non is careful to remind me that the pantry efforts were not meant to be an end-all solution. “The goal was never to provide for everyone... the true goal is to normalise kindness.”
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For donations, you may send them to the following accounts below:
GCASH: 09451454390 | Ann Patricia Non
BDO: 001430247639 | Ana Patricia B. Non
Paymaya: 09451454390 | Ana Patricia B Non
- Make-Up Johnson Estrella
- Photography Myra Ho
- Art Direction Anton San Diego
- Location Manila House