On International Women’s Day, Patreng Non easily comes to mind as a Filipino woman who constantly strives to help, to empower, and to make a difference.
It would seem that Patreng—formally Ana Patricia—is everywhere. Last month, the 27-year-old founder of the Maginhawa Community Pantry was busy going to and from San Jose in Nueva Ecija, arranging for onion farmers to sell their harvests in Metro Manila for a better price. On Valentine’s Day, she was on TV and online promoting “vegetable bouquets”—a pitch to help farmers sell crops that failed to reach markets in the metropolis. On March 7, she was in Quezon City to push the sale of statement T-shirts and to organize kitchen and pantry stations in support of the weeklong strike of jeepney drivers protesting the phaseout of traditional jeepneys.
“I guess this has been my life since 2021 when I decided to set up that small bamboo cart containing food items on Maginhawa Street in Quezon City. I just can’t stop as there are still families struggling with food insecurity,” Patreng tells CoverStory.ph in a Zoom interview.
Within days that the bamboo cart drew all sorts of donors and expanded into a bustling food bank where the call to give what you can and take what you need—“Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan”—became the catchphrase at similar food banks that were set up nationwide at the height of the Covid-19 lockdowns.
According to Patreng, she and other members of her organization, Community Pantry PH, come from low-income families that have experienced food insecurity at one point in their lives.
“Right now, all of us volunteers here need to take several jobs so we can financially support ourselves and our families and still have some more to run the group effectively,” she says. “We can’t rely on donations alone. We know the struggles of the families we are helping, and this fact gives us the energy to go on with our volunteer work.”
In her DNA
Volunteerism is in Patreng’s DNA, nurtured at Paco Catholic School where she was a high school scholar, and which had regular feeding programs for street children. In high school, she accompanied her mother, Zena Bernardo, in the latter’s development work at Food for Hungry Minds and Childhope Philippines, organizations that help disadvantaged children in Manila.
Her father, Art Non, was an organizer of Aeta communities in Pampanga. “And he would often tell me to make sure I buy something from them because their crops are their only source of livelihood,” she recalls.
Patreng is a visual communications graduate of the University of the Philippines’ College of Fine Arts. “Of course,” she says, “my time at UP exposed me to the plight of Indigenous peoples, workers, and farmers, which is why these are the communities I am helping these days.”
She served as inspiration for the 6,700 community pantries that sprouted all over the Philippines in 2021. She was praised for such a practical and uncomplicated solution—with no hypocrisy or political games, as she often pointed out—to shortages in food and other essentials during the pandemic lockdowns.
But certain people were unimpressed and publicly declared suspicion of a “hidden hand” behind her actions. She eventually became a target of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac).
On April 20, 2021, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, then a spokesperson for the NTF-Elcac, said in an interview with One News on TV5 that Patreng was deceiving people the way the devil did: “Isang tao lang si Ana, si Patricia, ‘di ba? Same with Satan. Si Satan binigyan ng apple si Eve. Doon lang nagsimula ‘yun (Ana Patricia is just one person, right? Same with Satan. Satan gave Eve an apple. That’s where it all started).”
Dream come true
Says Patreng: “I don’t aim to please everyone. If all these are for some selfish act, I would have named it ‘Patreng’s Pantry.’ That one I set up in 2021 was, for me, a dream come true because when I was still in college, I really planned on coming up with a dream project.”
As a fine arts graduate, “I wanted to build a tangible art piece, say a bucket that natives could use to fetch water for the community,” she says. “In this case, I was able to convert a rickety bamboo cart into something that fed a hungry community.”
Patreng kept her composure throughout the Red-tagging that lasted until the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term. Early on, because of security issues, she had to halt operations of the Maginhawa community pantry for a day in 2021, but her supporters in the community made sure that food and other donations were accepted and distributed the following day.
“I should thank the community, my family and friends, who protected me, who made sure I am safe and defended me from detractors who really have no idea of who I am,” she declares, adding:
“I guess that during those times, because we had a leader who looked down on women and who was often criticized for offensive remarks about women, many people were emboldened to behave like him. It came to a point that even some police officers who were assigned to the pantry area were making remarks about my legs, and why I am still single.”
To counter misogyny, Patreng advises women to surround themselves with like-minded other women who can lift them up and help them achieve even bigger things. “We should ask ourselves what we can do today to help and make a big positive impact in the community. This refocuses us and reconfirms our purpose,” she says.
Her organization is run by an executive committee wholly composed of women with backgrounds and aspirations similar to hers.
When she feels stressed or anxious, she stops what she’s doing, steps outside, and spends time in nature to refocus on “what’s important.” A member of the UP Mountaineers, she says she has realized that the best ideas and solutions, as well as clarity, show up when she takes the time, even if briefly, to recharge and relax.
Today, Patreng sees herself continuing her group’s advocacy to help ease the food crisis and food insecurity.
“While our community pantries may seem like Band-aid solutions, we also look at the long term, like protecting the farmers from middlemen,” she says. “We realized that there is an ample supply of vegetables in the provinces that we can bring to Metro Manila and sell at a price lower than what middlemen are charging, but still high enough for farmers to be inspired to go on planting their crops.”
Patreng says that with the increasingly erratic climate, the difficulties in transporting farm products to the market, and the displacement of farming families by conflict, actively helping subsistence farmers (or those who eat what they grow) and rural communities effectively address their problems can lead to major gains in the struggle against food insecurity and poverty.
“Women can be a catalyst for change because we can offer new energy as well as generate new ideas,” she says. Today, March 8, she will be at Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila “to talk about how we, in our own little way, are addressing food security.” For the whole week, Community Pantry PH will be “organizing pantries and kitchens for drivers who are in danger of losing their jobs with the jeepney modernization program.”
Patreng points out that in societies where women and girls are supported and empowered, everyone benefits: “Families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves, and everyone’s income increases.”