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Make Kindness Viral: How to Set Up a Community Pantry

Tips from those who started one.
by Clara Rosales
Apr 19, 2021
Photo/s: Fei Cayabyab / Allia Acosta
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Inspired by a corner stall in Maginhawa, Quezon City, community pantries are sprouting up all over the country, providing free food and essentials to those who were crippled by the pandemic.

If you are planning to start an outpost of kindness in your neighborhood, here's the story of several pantry-starters who were inspired by the motto: "Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan. Kumuha batay sa pangangailangan (Give what you can. Take what you need)."

Allia Acosta, a 27-year-old instructor from the University of the Philippines Diliman, saw the viral initiative of Ana Patricia Non in Maginhawa Street, Quezon City and set one up with JM Lanuza in Mother Ignacia, beside a tricycle station.

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Acosta said she couldn't bear people going hungry because they can't get aid from the government.

Continue reading below ↓

It's the same motivation for 22-year-old musician Fei Cayabyab. She said she wanted to replicate international and local pantries and fridges as an act of solidarity with the masses.

"I tweeted that day to find other people who can join me to setup one in Makati," Cayabyab said, and that's how she got in contact with Kino and Jinji, who she met up with virtually to organize the pantry.

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Though the effort reaps its rewards in the countless people walking away with food for their families, overflowing support from the community keeps Cayabyab and Acosta going, sparking hope that this marks the beginning for more collective action.

"The goal to influence other people to put up their own community pantries and practice solidarity with each other is what keeps us going," Cayabyab explained.

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"With the collective action of many people, a new world is possible," Acosta said.

"We should all practice mutual aid. It's easy to organize and does not require much energy because it tends to move on its own so make one now in your neighborhood or community," Cayabyab said.

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Here's how to set up a community pantry in your area:

Location matters

Both Acosta and Cayabyab recommended heavy foot-traffic areas so more people are aware there's a community pantry, and they can easily access the spot either to get what they need or donate what they have in excess.

The one set up in Mother Ignacia is near a community and a tricycle station.

It's also good to think about the people who may need the help. For the Makati outpost, Cayabyab admitted to having trouble finding a good location.

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"Our biggest struggle was the location since Makati has lots of well-off and empty districts. We agreed to put up a community pantry in Milkweed near Kino's place since it's a perfect area for tricycle drivers, vendors," Cayabyab said.

"We have to do social investigation," she added, citing situations such as overcrowding. The area should be large enough and well-ventilated to handle the traffic.

Pantry staples matter

Essentials like rice and bread are a good place to start, along with canned goods and instant food that don't need much preparation. You'll never go wrong with water, too.

For perishable goods such as fresh vegetables, fruits, and other produce, it's best to contribute ingredients a lot of people are familiar with. Not the best place to donate a dragon fruit.

"Normally the pantry supplies can easily run out so pick the supplies that are in daily Filipino dishes," Cayabyab said.

Necessities go beyond edibles. Acosta also listed "medicine (Vitamin C and Paracetamol), sanitary napkins, alcohol, and face masks," as essentials for everyone.

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Safety protocols matter

Long queues are inevitable once more people hear about it and the community rushes in to help. Cayabyab always reminds her community to follow health protocols, "which Filipinos are not having any difficulty doing." 

"We will also be placing signs later for reinforcement," Acosta said for the Mother Ignacia pantry.

Getin the word out matters

Big signs and placards can inform passersby that there's a functional community pantry in their area, but social media can reach far beyond your community or street. Much like the Maghinhawa community pantry that went viral, other streets, areas, and communities went online to get the word out

"Make sure to be friendly to bypassers and motorists. Invite them by calling them to come for the pantry. #CommunityPantryPH online tag works too!" Cayabyab suggested.

Have a number, e-mail address, or social media profiles that people can contact if they want to drop off donations. Online bank and money transfers are also made possible through mobile wallet apps.

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"Social media was a big help, the community's sense of ownership also helped a lot," Acosta said.

Donations both in cash and kind are flowing in thanks to social media posts, with some coming from different areas or provinces.

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