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Date: May 31, 2021Posted by: Marionette Martinez

Sr. Donnalynn Marie Morta
2nd Year Junior-Professed Sister
Campus Minister, St. Paul University Manila

The number of COVID 19 positive cases has escalated very fast, especially here in Metro-Manila; but the affirmation of God’s love with the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection was indeed greater than any sickness or death. If there is one thing people have to be thankful for in this global crisis, it is that it has awakened all of us, religious and lay alike, to the reality of poverty existing around us and also to the power of making ourselves available to become channels of blessings. Seeing all these, as consecrated persons, being blessed with the basic needs and well taken care of by a loving community brought about the desire to reach out and be of help to others. With the immensity of the problem, the question was where to begin?

Random people around the world started to offer their “five loaves and two fish” and the idea of putting up Food Pantries unfolded before our eyes. Many were fed and it did not take long before the concept reached the Philippines and the first local proponent called it “Community Pantry” where people may give whatever they can and get only what they need (magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan). Having the good news of kindness going viral in social media that fast, more than all the negativities was really a reason to say “It is the Lord!” It was April 21, 2021 when it was announced that what started as just an idea for SPU Manila to open its own Community Pantry was made real with the invitation to Sr. Ma. Evangeline Anastacio, our University President, from Barangay 697, where we reside, to partner with them to set up one.

There were some concerns, such as, how long could we sustain it? Where will we get enough resources to provide? Will it be risky, given the pandemic? How can we avoid abuses by the recipients? The questions kept coming with no loophole-free answers. But ours was just another classic case of “stepping out of the boat.” Like other commitments, personal and more so communal, it could not be just one big “yes” in the beginning; we had to “make our yes mean yes.” That very day we started the pantry that would cater to around 200 families of street-dwellers, vendors, some of our employees, taxi drivers, those living in Barangay 697 and even the neighboring barangays, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9:00 to 10:30 AM.

It was truly a community effort. Even our student-Sisters who are busy with their online classes and the senior Sisters who have been advised not to be in the frontline for their own safety still got to be part of it all by preparing the goods to be distributed. Waking up to a long line of people as early as 5:00 in the morning was very disturbing but one could hear the Lord say “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat (Mt. 14:16).” We are in the best place to witness the full dependence on the Lord’s providence seen in our less fortunate brothers and sisters and the overflowing generosity of all the people contributing to this pantry—Paulinian alumni and past and present employees, not just from SPU Manila but also from other Paulinian schools, students, kind-hearted people in the barangay, and friends.

After more than a week, May 4, 2021, our neighboring state university, University of the Philippines Manila and its public service arm, the Ugnayan ng Pahinungod (Oblation Link) partnered with SPU Manila and Barangay 697 to open a pantry to serve the community on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the other side of the University from 9:00 to 10:00 AM. Indeed, God’s ways are not our ways.

The following day, May 5, 2021, three metric tons of vegetables, which SPU Manila ordered directly from the local farmers of Nagtipunan, Quirino Province in coordination with the Department of Trade and Industry and the local government of Quirino Province, arrived and were distributed to the people and to the schools that placed orders through us. This benefited not only the recipients of the Community Pantry but also the local farmers, who are also challenged because of the pandemic. We are expecting a second shipment of five metric tons of vegetables to arrive within the week.

“Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given (John 1:16).” The experience of having the Community Pantry is yet another proof that God, who cannot be outdone in generosity, may not exactly need us but still uses you and me to help our brothers and sisters simply because He shares His mission with the ones He loves. No one knows how and when this COVID 19 pandemic will end, but people are growing more generous each day, more faithful each day. Some recipients also shared their widow's mite for the Community Pantry and even the farmers who supply the vegetables gave more than what was bought from them knowing it will go to the urban poor. Miracles are happening. It is pure grace.