In 2012, Stephenie Grace D. Andin faced one of the darkest times of her life.
“Once the skies started to clear up, I started seeing life as gift. I thanked the Lord for a renewed life—for another chance at living. That year, I decided to thank all the people nearest and dearest to my heart,” she said.
Her way of thanking them was with her special Christmas boxes. “I love making kits and putting little things in a box,” Steph said. That first year, she gave letters to those “who helped her stand up again.” More themed boxes came in the following years: Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust (letter, star stickers for their achievements, edible pixie dust as a mood booster and an emergency motivational letter); Unity in Diversity Kit (letter, crayon molds, 6 shades of shredded crayons they can melt into the mold); Rest and Relaxation (hand-sewn pillow, a hot chocolate melt, cookie dough mug cake pack).
“I loved the idea of being there for my friends when I couldn’t be there physically. I wanted them to know that I’m always here for them… Ayoko silang bigyan ng excuse na ‘no one really cares for me.’ The aim of my box is to show them how I care for them and how much I appreciate having them in my life.”
A friend who loved the boxes so much told Steph she should start selling them. But back then, she said, “’my love is not for sale.’ I meant it kasi I could never put a value on these kits. I put so much love and effort into each one. But the idea has always been at the back of my mind.”
Fast forward to December last year, another dark period in Steph’s life. “There were days when I didn’t even want to get up. I didn’t eat. I didn’t shower and I didn’t talk to anyone. It was devastating for me to accept that what I once had—what I thought I was over, was back to haunt me.”
With the help of friends who kept sending her bible verses, visits to a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and medication, Steph got better.
“I had the renewed idea of making a difference. I wanted to be there, not only for my friends, but for strangers struggling in silence too. I wanted to be the person sending them that special package each month. Meron kasing thought na na-instill sa ’kin ’yung psychologist that I consulted with. She said, “If you want to do it, ’wag muna, keep thinking, wait muna ako until my next therapy session.” So I want to be their ‘until my box arrives.’ I combined my love for assembling kits and getting packages to start Pana.”
Pana, the country’s first mental health subscription box, is curated for each subscriber. “As they answer a Google survey each month, I’m given an idea of what they’re experiencing and their preferences including their allergies, stress relievers, hobbies, etc. I try to create a character profile of each subscriber, that way, I can make the boxes tailored to them. In addition to the boxes, we send out e-mails to past and present subscribers containing articles on understanding and coping with mental illness from our pool of writers.”
Why Pana? “I followed a lot of support groups and mental health awareness organizations and I stumbled across the arrow symbol. It made so much sense. Lalo na for me, personally, kasi every time I’m pulled back by this mental illness, I’m launched further. Parang mas naa-appreciate ko na ang life, mas nakikita ko na ang ginagawa ng Panginoon sa buhay ko. It’s a cycle but at least when the dark days come, I’m reminded that better things are to follow. I want to impart that symbol to my subscribers. Like Romans 8:28, I believe that experiences like this come for a reason. We will learn from it. Also, for sure, we will come out of it stronger. I want to be the bow that will help them realize they are meant to reach farther lengths. I want them to keep going long enough to see how far they will go.”
Steph, now a third year medical student in Far Eastern University-Nicanor Reyes Medical Foundation Institute of Medicine, a church pianist, Sunday school teacher, Physiology lecturer and voice talent, recruited her sister Sofia, a third year Fine Arts student in University of the Philippines Diliman, to be Pana’s graphic designer, and her close friend Lara Balquiedra, a law student at De La Salle University, to be the editor in chief of the articles they send to subscribers every two weeks.
The service isn’t cheap. A one-month subscription costs P1,799, P3,300 for two months and P4,500 for three months. “It’s pricey kasi I want to give them quality items. Pana is nonprofit. And as my bank account is witness, I get more loss than gain from Pana. But, with our generous GoGetFunding sponsors and my Tita Chyn (my primary sponsor), I get by each month and I deliver. My priority right now is to reach the right people and to help them the best that I can,” Steph said.
One theme was Movie Night, which had the goal of bringing friends and family members together with movies and games. “That month, we gave them a month’s subscription to Netflix, games like Cards Against Humanity and Exploding Kittens. Meron din kaming nilagay na snacks to share.” This month’s theme is Ducktober—but Steph is keeping the contents of the boxes a secret for now.
People can buy subscriptions for others as a gift.
“Our boxes are made using a medical student’s point of view. As we are studying Neurology, Psychology and all other related subjects, I’m learning how to help my subscribers better. I’m in the process of looking for a psychiatrist to check the contents of my boxes per subscriber to make sure what I am sending them is helpful. We also aim to help them understand their illness better through the articles we send out each month.”
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