The variants are coming

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Camaligan community pantry | Photo by Kunokuno via Wikimedia Commons

No, I am not talking about COVID-19. The variants are already here, and they will keep coming. There is no viable plan to contain them or nothing that has been announced to the public. If there is any, only DOH has the secret formula. One day, we will know about it.

Let us shift to the other virus – the community pantries. According to DILG, there were already 6,700 community pantries as of last week. We were not wrong about the powerful nature of giving when triggered by inspiration. I did say that the community pantry phenomenon is a miracle and the perfect timing of its arrival in the Philippine scenario fueled its awesome impact.

6,700 sets of organizers sprouted from nowhere to express sympathy for the hungry. An expression beyond talk to action went beyond action to the generosity and went beyond generosity to nobility. That buried gem of Filipino virtue found an opening in the midst of misery, fear, and a contentious political atmosphere and swept everything else aside.

“We are not designed as human beings to indefinitely remain in a state of euphoria, to stay in a high, so to speak. Yet, even as that external expression fades away, there is something that is already transformed. We have managed to raise the bar of social awareness and collective concern.”

Of course, there was a people’s revolution in 1986. When it exploded in its strangely peaceful manner, accompanied by a mountain of prayers, it was that same nobility that poured into the streets. Nobility is always there inside us, but it is buried under so many layers of pain and suffering. This time, generosity was the trigger, the layer of virtue just above nobility. When generosity opened its doors, nobility was released as well.

Many anticipate that the fervor of nobility will wane soon, and after that, generosity will also recede. I can understand that process. We are not designed as human beings to indefinitely remain in a state of euphoria, to stay in a high, so to speak. Yet, even as that external expression fades away, there is something that is already transformed. We have managed to raise the bar of social awareness and collective concern. It may dematerialize but only in physical form. The spirit is already there and has raised the foundation of our soul.

The anticipation of that disappearance, though, must not serve as a reason for us to let go of a spectacular lesson and teacher. The import of the community pantry energy has caused a virtual, leaderless movement because of its own power to inspire. From 1 to 6,700 community pantries in a few weeks is a story in itself. It was not material wealth that empowered it, and it was the wealth of generosity and nobility that attracted material wealth to support it. In the middle of the pandemic when most Filipinos are insecure about their food security.

In the weeks to come, we can have a sense of how strong this wonderful energy is. I am eagerly participating and also closely observing. I do not see a disappearance but, instead, a shifting as community pantries feel the pressure of sustaining themselves. It is not a reflection of weakness if some cease operations for lack of resources. Having survived this long when there was never any plan, never any organizing, and never any raising of funds is, in fact, a manifestation of the extraordinary impulse of the community pantry spirit.

Because of that propulsion and the thirst of Filipinos to see generosity and nobility as the dominant atmosphere of a quarantined society, I anticipate the natural evolution towards variants. In other words, in its instinct to sustain itself, the spirit of the community pantry phenomenon will adjust and adapt to the circumstances that limit it. Like any virus where there are attempts to kill it, its survival instincts force it to mutate. Thus, the variants.

“In other words, in its instinct to sustain itself, the spirit of the community pantry phenomenon will adjust and adapt to the circumstances that limit it. Like any virus where there are attempts to kill it, its survival instincts force it to mutate. Thus, the variants.”

What have we seen so far with the community pantry sensation? Plenty, both in number and in substance. We saw hunger out in the open. Taking 6,700 community pantries across the nation, then imagining how many more would have opened as well if they had the minimum resources, and watching the lines of people in each one, hunger suddenly had visible presence and human faces.

The need for food and the fear of hunger now and tomorrow made proud people stand in line to take a portion of what was being offered. Hunger and fear of running out of food stopped being statistics. SWS has been affirmed. These years about measuring hunger through interviews found proof in the volume of people lining up before the community pantries.

We also learned that hunger is most effectively addressed at the community level by concerned and caring community members. In other words, they may gather the food in huge volumes at the top where the rich and powerful play, but the last milers know best how and who to help. The last milers are those within or nearest to the vulnerable communities. They are the first and fastest responders and the last to leave. When we saw the numbers of the hungry and fearful, we also saw the heroes on the ground, the people with the heart to help.

“Community pantries that give up do so because of lack of resources, not a lack of heart. A grateful society may find it to its highest benefit to match the heart and nobility of the first responders with their resources and technology. That way, a variant of the same spirit that gave birth to the community pantry will allow the continuance of its expressions.”

I believe that the variants that will soon evolve will honor the nobility of the first responders, today seen in the community pantries, and support it with the power of resources, systems, and authority. Community pantries that give up do so because of lack of resources, not a lack of heart. A grateful society may find it to its highest benefit to match the heart and nobility of the first responders with their resources and technology. That way, a variant of the same spirit that gave birth to the community pantry will allow the continuance of its expressions.

There is, therefore, eagerness in my anticipation of varying ways that highlight Filipino nobility and innovation. We have awakened to the power of the ordinary in an extraordinary display of Filipinos helping Filipinos. This is our moment to build that future full of hope, for Filipinos, by Filipinos.

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