The Power of Mutual Generosity



Hunger allows no choice to the citizen or the police; We must love one another or die.

— W. H. Auden, September 1, 1939


“Something beautiful is happening in our native land.”


We are on our way to New Jersey to watch the cherry blossoms at Branch Brook Park. My remark comes in the middle of my wife’s “educational tour lecture” concerning the right time to visit the park — “if you want to see cherry blossoms, Branch Brook Park is the place” — so nobody pays attention to my unexpected remark inside the car.


There are more than 4,000 cherry blossom trees in this 360 acre park, Delia continues. Although Washington DC is known for its cherry blossoms, Branch Brook Park has more cherry trees than DC. The life of these cherry blossoms, however, is very brief. They burst into full bloom, peaking only a couple of weeks, then start to fall. This happens around the end of March though the first three weeks of April. We are at the tail end of the festival before the flowers start to fall and the trees return to look barren and lifeless again.


“Check out your phones,” I interrupt. “News from home. I think we are witnessing Bayanihan spirit at its finest. It is called Community Pantry.”


The occupants in the car tell me to be more specific.


I tell them about Ana Patricia Non. After more than a year into the pandemic, “Patreng,” “tired of complaining, tired of inaction,” had decided to put up a makeshift pantry in Maginhawa, Quezon City, where everybody can donate and pick up food and basic necessities for free, and now the idea is spreading like wildfire in and out of Metro Manila.


“Like wildfire, you say?”


“Like this.” I point out front as our car approaches the entrance of the park where myriad cherry blossoms appear all over the place.


We are all spellbound by the loveliness of the cherry trees. I turn to park along the wayside where a crowd of cherry blossom trees are lined up, when all of a sudden a couple of wild geese approaches our car.


“Our welcoming committee.” My son Jacob takes a video of them.


My grandnephew Noah runs towards the welcoming committee, but stops short when he sees the geese running towards him.


Soon everyone is busy taking pictures, while I stretch my limbs and give thanks for the joy of simply being alive in the springtime.


I just love Spring. Flowers bloom, ice melt, birds sing, and all nature wakes up from her long winter slumber. Spring is also a time to open the windows, sit outside in family picnics, walk in the park, and welcome April showers.


Noah is trying to climb one of the trees. It is unlikely the boy will ever succeed, I think loudly to his mom and dad.


Now that I have your attention, I tell my captive audience, it’s my turn to lecture. Let me tell you more about Patreng’s Community Pantry.


For starters, I have always believed that greed is one of the major poisons in the world, the cause of so much suffering. Alas, all of us are guilty of greed at one time or another. We are all born laden with both tendencies to generosity and greed. The antidote to greed is generosity. Generosity cures greed. If we flooded the world with generosity, we feed it and starve out greed by giving the latter no nutrient. In other words, greed must not be fed, for it is the cause of so much suffering. For lack of nutrient greed will atrophy and die.


The Community Pantry Phenomenon is actually doing this, Philippine style. That is why I am excited about it.


Like cherry blossom buds they are popping up everywhere in my native land. As of this writing I learn that it is now in Naga popping up in Queborac, in San Felipe, at Jimenez Park Magsaysay . . .


The beauty of it is that it is not about the so-called superior-rich haves doling out aid to so-called inferior-poor have nots. “It’s not charity,” says Patreng. “It’s mutual aid.” It is mutual generosity.


I see tricycle and jeepney drivers, construction workers, street sweepers, ordinary people, each contributing what they can to the stalls laden with basic necessities like fruits and vegetables, canned goods, face masks, alcohol, rice, grocery items, “anything useful you can share.”


Magbigay Ayon sa Kakayahan (Give what you can)/Kumuha Batay sa Pangangailangan (Take what you need) is the catchword.


The phenomenon is being seen from different angles:


“When government is absent,” said a former VP, “we can look after each other.” It is a comment that draws not a few reactions.


The phenomenon is spreading — “a good virus,” says Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David — “the best chain reaction,” multiplying exponentially in many other areas, helping many bounce back from the pandemic, filling the gaps in the government’s seeming ineffectual response to the pandemic.


We continue our walking lecture in the park when suddenly looms the huge Gothic Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the fifth largest basilica in North America. It is a massive, extremely large, almost brutally impressive house of God, standing in the middle of the land with its two towers dominating the skyline and topped by single spire. We take our pictures, savoring the great view by the lake when I realize the church is just adjacent to the park. We also remind each other it is Eastertide.


“What do you think would happen if the cherry blossoms didn’t bloom again?” I ask my son.


“What do you think would have happened if Jesus had not risen from the dead?’ he responds.


Everyone is silent. Then I utter the three words that comfort everyone:


“He is Risen!”


The fact is Easter takes center stage in our Faith, and that is where it should be. Nothing is more central than this. It is not possible to think of the Faith in the absence of the Easter phenomenon. Peter and the Apostles and Paul in his Epistles frequently refer to Easter as the greatest bedrock of the Faith. By Easter is meant victory over sin and the devil, and also the pledge of our own resurrection of the body in the Last Day.


The community pantries give us hope. To me, they are cogent evidence of the Filipino ingenuity to transform suffering into victory: Just as the oyster takes in the irritating grains of sand and transforms them into a pearl: Just as the lotus flower transforms the obstacles in the mud to grow and awaken, not knowing that it was the nutrients in the mud that caused it to rise above the water and open its petals in the open air.


Unfortunately, the pantry idea has also attracted residual greed when six individuals were caught on video wiping out clean an entire stall in Pasig. I hope and pray this remains an isolated case. I also hope and pray it is not used and exploited by people of less noble agenda.


“We are gifted to give,” continues Bishop David, urging everyone to replicate the pantries and not allow the phenomenon to peter out. To him, these pantries are “the clearest and most tangible signs of hope in the midst of the hopelessness brought about by this pandemic.”


I think of the once barren land of skeletal trees around our home in New York last winter. They remind me that no matter how bad things are, spring will come. God is always at work.


In fact, after the crucifixion, Jesus was not dead but “busy.” For while His body was in the tomb, from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, His Soul “descended into hell” (“sheol” of the Old Testament, the abode of all the people who had died since Adam who could not enter heaven, however just they were, for the door was locked because of sin). Jesus opened that door to tell them their waiting was over.


It is time to leave. I look for my grandnephew and find him halfway up a cherry tree. How this giggling smart kid made it up there is a mystery to me.


We drop by a Filipino Max’s Restaurant for late lunch before driving to the Jersey Gardens Mall on our way back home.


Everyone inside the car is busy with eyes all glued on their phones hungry for more news from home, as we gasp in amazement at the community pantries popping up all over my native land, a phenomenal showcase of Filipino faith, hope, and love, expressed in the power of mutual generosity as plentiful as the rows upon rows of cherry trees blossoming in the light of the afternoon sun.


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