Love of God and for thy neighbor could be the strongest driving force behind the concept of the community pantry that’s helping hungry Filipinos survive the pandemic.
Of course, there may be other factors behind this form of bayanihan which has sprouted in many areas across the archipelago. For those unable to feel love for one’s neighbor, the motivation could be simply pity, or a sense of generosity.
“Since we wouldn’t hesitate to give if we did love, generosity invites us to give in the absence of love to the very people we do not love,” the French philosopher André Comte-Sponville said. “Indeed, when love cannot guide us because we do not feel it, let us be guided by urgency and proximity.”
The need to be “guided by urgency” has become more pressing amid persistent reports that one in every three Filipinos are going hungry amid the perfect storm of the raging coronavirus pandemic devastating the economy.
The alarming hunger rate of 30.7 percent, affecting 7.6 million Filipino families, has reached an all-time high among all the surveys done by the Social Weather Stations in the past 22 years. “Hungry families doubled from 8.8 percent in December 2019 to 16.7 percent in early May 2020, rose further by 14 points to 20.9 percent in early July, and then rose by another 10 points to 30.7 percent by mid-September,” SWS president Mahar Mangahas said.
The staggering number of Filipinos suffering from the pangs of hunger can be seen in the long lines of people waiting their turn in most community pantries. It is clear that the instinct of self-preservation and survival is what drives these people.
It is also clear that what sustains the community pantries is the spirit of giving felt by many donors, mostly wanting to retain their anonymity, whose selflessness is driven by love or generosity, or both. With “Give what you can and take what you need” as the guiding principle, the community pantry thrives.
It’s indeed ordinary Filipinos helping out fellow Filipinos, and not merely relying on government and big business to help.
I’m reminded of what top economist Cielito Habito once said when we discussed the hunger situation last year in my Teleradyo program Sagot Ko ‘Yan. Pointing out that two out of three Filipinos do not suffer from hunger, he said that if just one of these two would really reach out and help those in dire need, then the hunger situation would radically improve. What he said seems to be coming true.
In addressing hunger in the long-term, Mr. Habito said efforts must also focus on tackling the various forms of malnutrition, particularly stunting and wasting, affecting Filipino children. I fully agree with him.
Malnutrition can cause permanent, widespread damage to a child’s growth, development and well-being. The data on stunting is very disturbing: One in three Filipino children is irreversibly stunted by the age of two, mainly due to lack of nutritious food.
“Stunting in the first 1,000 days is associated with poorer performance in school, because malnutrition affects brain development, and also because malnourished children are more likely to get sick and miss school. Hidden hunger can cause blindness (vitamin A deficiency), impair learning (iodine deficiency) and increase the risk of a mother dying in childbirth (iron deficiency), a 2019 UNICEF report said.
“And this disruption to children’s physical and cognitive development stays with them into adulthood, compromising their economic prospects and putting their futures at risk,” the report added.
The community pantry that helps the poor and malnourished with their needed supply of vegetables, fruits, and other nutritious food can certainly go a long way in addressing hunger and malnutrition.
Whether nameless donors give merely out of pity or out of generosity should not really matter as long as the giving does not stop. But we Christians like to believe that love is the ultimate driving force to keep on giving which may fulfill the two greatest commandments – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).
As I’ve often said in my previous columns, to love is to serve. Love without service is nothing. Loving and serving go hand in hand. Otherwise, love is meaningless. And the best way to serve is through the corporal works of mercy – and to feed the hungry is first among them.