“Pantry of Sharing” campaign unlocks Thais’ spirit of generosity

Photo from Share Pantry’s facebook

The Pantry of Sharing initiative has spurred Thais’ willingness to help out those in need. It remains to be seen, though, whether this new spirit of giving will last amid reports that some people are exploiting the generosity of those who stock the pantries with food donations.

The idea behind the Pantry of Sharing is simple and inspiring – “Give what you can, take what you need”. It can be put into practice quite easily too, with just a cupboard set up in a community and the haves putting in basic necessities for the have-nots.

So, when video clips about the initiative started circulating on social media late last week, many Thais were inspired to embrace the concept. In a matter of days, the number of these cupboards has jumped from five to 249. However, these impressive early results have been accompanied by some discouraging signs.

On Monday, a Pantry of Sharing cupboard in Nakhon Sawan province was stripped bare by several people who came wearing face masks and left with their bags stuffed full of food items. Others arrived only to find there was nothing left for them.

In Ubon Ratchathani province, a donor reported that a family of three grabbed more than 30 eggs and at least half a dozen water bottles from the cupboard in front of the city museum.

When the donor asked why they had taken so much, a young member of the family replied, “Others take much more than we do.”

“In truth, the Pantries of Sharing will only last as long as communities support them,” said Supakit Kulchartvijit, a prominent marketing coach and a key figure behind the initiative. “If you take all items in one sweep, givers won’t be happy to refill it.”

He warned people against “killing the goose that lays the golden eggs”. According to the folk tale, the owner kills his precious animal in the hope of retrieving all the treasure in one single go. Blinded by greed, he refuses to wait for the single golden egg she provides each day. But, after slaughtering the goose, he finds no sign of the golden eggs in her belly.

Comparing the Pantry of Sharing cupboards to the goose, Supakit said: “If the cupboards are gone, you will get nothing. If you take items in the cupboards to sell them, trust will be gone, and no one will fill the cupboards again.”

He urged locals to educate others in their communities so they see that selfishly exploiting the free pantries will hurt everyone.

Having practised Buddhist precepts since his university years, Supakit and his friends came together to launch the Pantry of Sharing initiative to help people during the Covid-19 outbreak.

While the pandemic is threatening people’s health, it’s also destroying livelihoods across the country. In the face of lockdown measures and the stay-at-home directive, millions of Thais are now struggling to make ends meet.

In response, the group set up a total of five Pantry of Sharing cupboards, four in Bangkok and one in Rayong.

People were sceptical about the idea at first, Supakit recounted, as he launched another Pantry of Sharing cupboard the other day.

“Many said our cupboards would be stolen. Others predicted items inside would all be taken for resale. But we decided to give it a try anyway. The fact that all our [original] five cupboards are still up and running, being refilled by locals, proves that Thais are generous and less dishonest than those who doubt them.”

His initiative was inspired by the Mini Free Pantry.

Back in 2016, Jessica McClard started a grassroots mini pantry movement in the United States simply by planting a wooden box on a post and filling it with food, personal-care and paper items accessible to everyone all the time, no questions asked. Today, the movement has become global in scale with locals in many countries engaged in feeding their needy neighbours.

A similar scheme was launched by good Samaritans in Naples, Italy, where baskets of food and tables laden with basic necessities can be found across the city during the Covid-19 outbreak, as locals seek to ensure those in need can at least scrape by.

The success of the Mini Free Pantry gave Supakit reason to believe that there are more good people than bad in society. He also trusted that people could be taught to behave and do better.

A special feature of the Pantry of Sharing is the small notebook placed inside each cupboard. Donors can leave a message, and so can the beneficiaries. The notebook means they can quietly, anonymously communicate.

A note left apparently by a good Samaritan says, “Let’s get through this [situation] together”, while another reads, “Let’s help one another”. One recipient, meanwhile, has left a simple message of gratitude: “Thank you for these good things.”

“And I hope today’s recipients of help, if they do well in the future, will repay the kindness to others,” Supakit said.

By ThaiPBS World’s General Desk


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