Youths initiate setting up of community pantries in Lanao

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 21 April) – For the youths of Lanao who opened community pantries, particularly those in this city and neighboring Iligan, the move is not just to help provide for the needs of those having difficulty coping with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The community pantry in Barangay Cadayonan 2 in Marawi City, photographed Tuesday (20 April 2021). Photo courtesy of Taha Ali Jr. / Lakas Kabataan ng Lanao

They cater, too, to those who have not yet bounced back from the Marawi Siege of 2017 and the devastating floods of Typhoon Sendong way back in 2011, where thousands of people were affected.

Like many of the community pantries that sprouted all over the country, the Lanao versions have been inspired by the Maginhawa Community Pantry.

The Lakas Kabataan ng Lanao organization opened a community food pantry in Barangay Cadayonan 2 using cash and food donations from various donors in the city and nearby municipalities.

“We started with donations from the members…. It later sparked others to donate to the cause, too,” said Taha Ali Jr., member of Lakas Kabataan ng Lanao.

The Marawi food pantry is open from 1 to 4 p.m. daily and is available to give and receive food.

On their first day of donation drives on Tuesday, the organization was able to gather about P8,000 in cash, aside from the food donations that came, including palapa, the Meranaws’ favorite sweet and spicy condiment made mainly from white scallions.

Ali shared that their first client was a blind elderly and his grandchild who were selling bananas on the road.

“At first, the grandfather and child didn’t want to get anything from the community pantry because they thought they had to pay to get some food items and were ashamed because they had no money. So we took some of each of the food products we had and packed it for them,” Ali said, to the tandem’s surprise.

On their first day of operation, the team had to market for goods twice and had all their food stocks cleared.

Prominent members of the community, including members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), have shared their post about their ongoing food drives.

The Marawi community pantry. Photo courtesy of Taha Ali Jr. / Lakas Kabataan ng Lanao

For Ramadhan

One of the goals of their pantry was to allow those in need to be able to eat before (sahur) and after (iftar) they fast in this month of the Ramadhan.

“Who would have thought that a single penny or more given as charity to this cause by someone have benefited a lot of people who are in dire need. May Allah Himself reward them multiple times,” said Usman Mohammad, one of the organizers.

He further said that one of the lessons that Ramadhan teaches is giving, especially to those who have less.

“One of the reasons why Muslims are obliged to observe fasting is for them to feel what their needy brothers feel, having nothing on their table. Through fasting, we’ll realize how hard it is to be in that state. Therefore, charity is highly encouraged during Ramadhan,” Mohammad said.

He noted that while the times are hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still many in Marawi who have not yet recovered from their losses during the Marawi Siege in 2017 and have had difficulty earning money since the pandemic.

“We might not even know that there are still many who have very little that they barely have any food for sahur and iftar.We hope that there would be more of these initiatives so that Allah would be delighted,Mohammad said.

Another group in Marawi, the Peace Harvest team, have likewise focused on the Ramadhan for their pantry. “In the holy month of Ramadhan, many of our fellow Muslims are unable to attain their daily resources due to poverty. We have heard of stories about our fellows who have an empty plate during Iftar and Suhoor, and even attending Tharawee with an empty stomach. Thus, we wish to address this with you,” the group said.

In Iligan

Meanwhile in Iligan, some young people have opened donation drives to put up a community pantry in Purok Manuang in Barangay Ubaldo Laya, one of the areas damaged by Typhoon Sendong in 2011 where 18 families had their houses washed out.

Theirs is one of the two community pantries in Iligan. It is manned by youths whose families were affected by Sendong and members of the Sangguniang Kabataan of the barangay.

One of the community pantries in Iligan CIty that opened Tuesday (20 April 2021) at Barangay Ubaldo Laya. MindaNews photo by RIZ P. SUNIO

According to the locals, their area is still prone to flooding despite the ripraps built and new bridges installed in the area since Sendong.

The group started with P3,500 they gathered from donors, including money from sisters Lucia and Luzanie Silva who initiated the first community pantry in Iligan, which was put up in another part of town, in the coastal village of Canaway.

“Most of the residents of the community are construction workers, pedicab drivers, jeepney drivers, laborers, sidewalk vendors, and others whose livelihood were affected by the pandemic and have difficulty finding food for their everyday needs,” Reemar Alonsagay, one of the young people who initiated the cause, said in a Facebook post.

He added that there were also construction workers who were laid off and others who have lost their livelihood and jobs because of the pandemic.

According to the Iligan Community Pantry Facebook page, three more pantries have sprouted in Iligan as of Wednesday – in Purok Lakambini 2 in Barangay Tubod, in Fuentes in Barangay Maria Cristina, and Purok 4 in Barangay Upper Hinaplanon, which was also severely hit by Sendong.

From the community, for the community

Elizabeth Palanas, 58, took some vegetables, canned goods, and spices from the community pantry in Ubaldo Laya for her household.

In 2011, her and her son’s houses were swept by the flood in Purok Manuang.

She said that they were one of the families who were given a lot to build a house on in Barangay Bonbonon.

By selling spices from her own garden as a sidewalk vendor in the market and her husband’s wages from the slaughterhouse, they pooled in money little by little to build their own house from the donated lot.

When the pandemic came, Elizabeth stopped selling in the market for fear of the virus and of getting dispersed because she initially did not have a stall of her own at the Palao market. She was able to get a spot later when the market was moved to Tambo, but she said the competition was tough and she barely had any customers.

They plan to move in to the permanent house they were trying to build in Bonbonon once their 10-year contract to stay in the house that the Philippine Red Cross granted to them in Ubaldo Laya will expire, but the pandemic came and they could no longer pay for the completion of the house.

The skeleton of the house they were trying to build in Bonbonon, which was halted when the pandemic came, were already in shambles, she heard.

Her husband’s salary was also always delayed. With no pay, Elizabeth’s family was only able to live through the pandemic because of the food aid given to them by the barangay.

The food she was able to get from the pantry allowed her to cook meals for her family.

“These young people are good people. Don’t worry because once my husband finally gets paid, it will be our turn to help next time,” she said.

Sustainable food for everyone

The team was also able to get food donations from what the community was able to give, mostly from their own urban garden.

Jamel Ann Caylan, another member of the initiative, said that they plan to make the pantry sustainable by allowing the community to give and receive from the pantry, then encourage them to plant food to be shared with everyone.

They plan to use a plot about five blocks big where they can plant various vegetables to help make the pantry sustainable.

Caylan shared that some who get food from their pantry are laborers who are going to work and have had no proper breakfast yet since their salaries are also delayed.

“Rather than just giving them food, the pantry would become more sustainable if we give the community seeds to plant,” she said.

“The highlight of these initiatives is partnering the community so that they themselves would lead the projects and so be able to sustain it. Eventually, they would realize that the community pantry’s concept is when someone gets from it, someone would also give. This is breaking their role as just being mere beneficiaries of the pantry,” Alonsagay said.

On red-tagging

Alonsagay said they felt frustration on the issue of red-tagging of community pantry organizers.

“The space where you are trying to help people is being colored politically,” he said, adding that it causes their avenues to help to shrink.

He noted that the essence of the pantries is for the people to be united. “It’s already the practice of the Filipinos to help each other,” Alonsagay added.

Marc Jhon Tompar pointed out that there were others who were planning to give food donations through their initiative, but were scared they might also be red-tagged, thereby causing a chilling effect for these kinds of initiatives.

“The community pantry is a way to look at the gaps seen in the government’s response. In one way, pantries are political statements,” he stressed.

Ali, of the Marawi community pantry, likewise expressed frustrations on the issue: “Nakaka-bad trip lang kasi may nagkukusang loob na nga, tapos ika-cancel pa (It’s such a bad trip because there were already people willing to help, but end up cancelling their donations).” (Riz P. Sunio / MindaNews)