Los Baños families, residents, and medical frontliners continuously receive hot comfort meals through the Art Relief Mobile Kitchen– a group of volunteers that aim to feed the hungry through a community kitchen.
As of May 25, Los Baños has 1, 723 confirmed CoVid cases and is still part of the NCR+ bubble which means that it remains as one of the provinces with a concentrated number of cases.
Since the community quarantine started, operations of institutions, businesses, and services were forced to temporarily shut down and many employees lost their jobs.
In the early stages of lockdown, the national and local government units have made efforts to provide relief packs and monetary support for affected Filipino families. As the COVID-19 situation worsened and other disasters took place, these efforts became insufficient and many Filipinos were left incapable of providing for themselves and their families.
To spark the “bayanihan spirit”, other locals have initiated their own private-sector movements to power up communities through these tough times.
ARMK has been providing immediate disaster response all over the country since 2013 and continuing local efforts to provide people service for the people affected by the pandemic.
How it began
ARMK was founded by a couple named Alex Baluyut and Precious Leaño— each had their own stories that inspired them to establish this movement.
Baluyut is a photojournalist who started with hard news photography and later on shifted to documentary photography. His job showed him the reality of the situation of Filipinos outside the big cities. He mentioned that it hurt him to take pictures and leave without doing something with it. He has always wanted to work for humanitarian causes but he never expected to start one of his own.
Leaño on the other hand is a University of the Philippines alumna and is currently an independent consultant for communication and a theatre artist. According to Leaño, as a theatre artist, she was always casted as a “taong bayan”. Inevitably, this led her to empathize and feel compassion for the stories of the characters she played.
The ARMK initiative started with Alex’s simple Facebook post saying that he wanted to provide food for those who are in Villamor Airbase in Pasay upon seeing the news about the refugees of the Zamboanga Siege. After a few hours, he did not expect to receive overwhelming responses from friends offering their help.
Initially, all the volunteers were artists composed of theatre actors and photojournalists. On their way to Villamor, in traffic, they asked themselves, “Ano [ang] pangalan natin?” Leaño looked around and saw artists, relief goods, and a mobile kitchen, and later on realized that they should be named “Art Relief Mobile Kitchen”.
ARMK has gained support from their friends, volunteers, and donors who continuously volunteer and donate cash, equipment, and ingredients. Farmers from Batangas, Benguet, and Sagada have also shown their support as they partnered with ARMK in donating fresh ingredients.
According to Leaño, the number of volunteers they have is innumerable as entire communities have helped out in most of the disasters they have responded to.
Its operations have extended to Laguna, Davao, Iligan, and Zamboanga—all working from 8 AM to 4 PM which makes it a whole day commitment. There is a range of 8 to 30 volunteers on any given mission depending on the scale of cooking that needs to be accomplished. While they have been in operation since 2013, their first initiative in Los Baños was only before the pandemic in February of 2020 to help those who were affected by a fire incident in Umali Subdivision.
ARMK in LB
To date, ARMK are ongoing with their operations in Batong Malake covered court, Los Baños. Since they started on March 19, 2020, they have served in all of the puroks of the barangay including UP Los Baños students who were stranded last year after the first lockdown and the medical and government frontliners.
They continue to serve not only in Batong Malake, but also in other barangays such Tadlac, Mayondon, Anos, Timugan, San Antonio, Maahas, Bagong Silang, Pakil, Sta. Cruz, and Pila.
Leaño expressed her gratitude and joy as compassion is shown by the Los Baños community. People reach out to them to give donations and occasionally give gifts to boost morale.
“Maraming tumatawag samin kapag may extra silang sako ng bigas, gulay, binibigay nila dito. May mga nagpapadala para sa mga volunteers pang pataas ng morale, pampa-good vibes. It’s joyful giving and joyful receiving,” she said.
Leaño also mentioned that some of those whom they have helped in the Umali fire are still volunteering with them but they do not believe that this is because of “utang na loob” but solely because of the goodness of their hearts.
According to Baluyot, ‘’compassion’’ is the key word to the ARMK initiative. Their work has allowed them to hear stories while creating stories of their own, and understand communities beyond theirs. However, their goal is for ARMK to no longer be needed as compassion becomes normalized in all communities.
Those who want to volunteer in this initiative or express support through food or monetary donations, ARMK can be reached through their Facebook page or message Alex Baluyot and Precious Leaño on their personal Facebook accounts. You may also deposit in their BPI account under the name ART RELIEF MOBILE KITCHEN INC with the account number 0911 0161 68.