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Art Relief Mobile Kitchen: Feeding the hungry in times of disasters

Food is one of human’s most basic needs. In times of disasters however, many families – traumatized, worried, and confused – find themselves with nothing, not even a simple meal. Art Relief Mobile Kitchen knew this too well and thought of a solution.

Since 2012, the non-profit group has been setting up community kitchens across the country to cook for people affected by disasters. Through the help of volunteers, Art Relief prepares warm meals at disaster sites and/or evacuation centers instead of just distributing relief goods typically comprised of dried and packed meals.

“Sometimes, all that people need to start bouncing back is a decent meal,” said Alex Baluyut, Art Relief Mobile Kitchen co-founder and president. People need something to warm their stomachs and energize their tired bodies,” Alex added.


The start of a mission

In November 2013, at the height of post-typhoon Yolanda operations, journalists and artists pulled their resources together to help feed families who were evacuated from Leyte to Villamor Airbase. Led by the couple Alex Baluyut and Precious Leano – who transported their entire kitchen to Villamor Airbase – the volunteers cooked warm meals for disaster victims.

“People were willing to help. Within 30 minutes upon reading my Facebook post about cooking for the evacuees, I received calls from friends offering money, food, kitchen stuff, and their own time to help us feed the hungry at Villamor,” said Alex.

Art Relief Mobile Kitchen was born. The group camped at Villamor for 22 days, and cooked non-stop for typhoon Yolanda victims.


Challenges and difficulties

Art Relief has fed the hungry during most of the worst disasters that hit the Philippines. Recently it has mobilized teams to cook for families and individuals affected by typhoon Ompong in Itogon, Benguet and the tragic landslide that took many lives in Naga, Cebu.

Finding the people who will cook is not a concern. While Art Relief only has 15 volunteers as part of its core, the organization is able to immediately set up mobile kitchens and cook for disaster victims because community members and even the evacuees themselves volunteer to take part in cooking and meal distribution. It has also been easy to call for help. Thanks to social media, Alex said he is able to cascade information and ask for assistance in just a few click.

The major challenge is logistics. Alex explained the difficulty in transporting kitchen equipment to disaster sites and how gathering donated food ingredients from supporters could cause logistics concerns as well.

The mission in Marawi has been the most difficult to date because of logistics and security concerns. “We were in Marawi at the height of efforts to free the city, just a few days before Philippine Independence Day. It was hard to move stuff from point A to point B. The chances of us getting caught in the cross fire was high,” Alex explained.

Despite these challenges, Art Relief vows to continue feeding the hungry in times of disasters. It has survived 6 years and is going strong.


Photo Credit: Art Relief Mobile Kitchen