"Let us avoid these pitfalls so these ideas achieve the goals they were designed to reach."
It is not difficult to imagine the motivations of a 26-year-old woman who started a community pantry on her Quezon City street.
The idea was for anybody to donate anything according to one’s capacity to give, and to take from the makeshift shelf just the amount of goods one’s family would need.
In the past few days, donations from all over, in small bags or in bulk, have been pouring into the pantry. Volunteers have been helping repack them.
The lines have been long, as well, highlighting many people’s need for tangible help at this precarious time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has indeed taken a vicious toll on our individual and collective lives. We know all too well the tragedy that befalls a family when a member—or several—gets infected with the virus. The effect on the body and the mind has been immobilizing.
Aside from the health issues, restricted mobility has been dealing a sizable blow on people’s livelihood. Working from home is a privilege available only to a fortunate few. Whoever is able to keep a job struggles to keep it despite difficulties and risks attendant to showing up for work.
In the meantime, millions have lost their jobs—if they had any to begin with.
The spirit of the community pantry reflects the Filipino tradition of bayanihan, but also the simple yet universal trait of helping anybody in need. The donors may feel they have been blessed to still be earning a living. Or, even if they themselves are in need, they acknowledge that others are in greater need than they are.
Today, the idea is gaining traction and many other communities are putting up their own pantries. The thought is heartening—but we cannot help wondering if there is a way to shield a noble idea from the pitfalls and potentials for abuse that may soon hound it.
First, may the pantries resist the intrusion of politicians and all others with vested interests. The idea is to anonymize donors and recipients, eschew personalities and become one with the community. May this initiative be safe from those who want to ride on a good idea for personal gain, especially since elections are around the corner.
Second, this is evidence that given a lack of support from the government, citizens will take matters into their own hands. We know that our leaders themselves are grappling with the crisis, and we can no longer bear waiting for them to get their act together. May the pantries shatter the smugness of the powers-that-be that they are doing an “excellent” job of handling the pandemic.
Finally, there is the specter of fatigue. We have seen this many times in the past—an outpouring of help at the height of a crisis, but a gradual waning with the passage of time even as the difficulties persist. May we be consistent with our help and mindful of logistics, so the initiative benefits only those it is intended to help.
This pandemic and its attendant hardships will not be over soon. As we laud good ideas that genuinely make a difference, let us also imagine ways to sustain them so that they can achieve the goals they were designed to reach.