The story of World Central Kitchen, 14 years responding to hunger in humanitarian disasters

"Where there is a fight for hungry people to feed themselves, we will be there.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
02 April 2024 Tuesday 16:31
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The story of World Central Kitchen, 14 years responding to hunger in humanitarian disasters

"Where there is a fight for hungry people to feed themselves, we will be there." It is the motto of World Central Kitchen (WCK), the NGO led by the Asturian chef José Andrés (Mieres, 1969) who this Monday suffered the loss of seven workers in an attack by the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza.

For more than 14 years they have been bringing food to places suffering humanitarian crises due to natural disasters or wars. "World Central Kitchen arose from a simple idea that I and my wife Patricia had at home: when people are hungry we have to send cooks. Not tomorrow, today," says José Andrés himself on the website of his NGO. In many cases it is about helping but also listening, learning and, when possible, cooking alongside people affected by hurricanes, forest fires, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and armed conflicts.

In 2021, when José Andrés and his NGO received the Princess of Asturias Award for Concord, it was recalled that since 2010 they had provided aid to more than a dozen countries affected by disasters, distributing hundreds of millions of meals and bringing together some 45,000 volunteers .

In 2022, the chef also received the special award from the Comer Awards. In his acceptance speech he emphasized the role of cooks in building a world in which hunger is no longer a problem.

Although World Central Kitchen's actions are constant - in 2022 alone the NGO responded to 30 climate catastrophes in countries such as Australia, Brazil, India, Madagascar and the United States - some of its most massive mobilizations are the following:

It was as a result of the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 when José Andrés felt the inspiration to do his bit through what he knew how to do best, cooking, so he moved to that country and did not hesitate to start preparing meals at the same time. side of displaced families in a camp.

In Haiti, WCK has also set up culinary schools such as École des Chefs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as well as the Clean Kitchens program in communities in the Caribbean and Central America. With this initiative, which sought to promote the use of cleaner, safer and more environmentally friendly fuels to replace charcoal or firewood in stoves, 180 school kitchens were built or remodeled, 65,000 students and school cooks were reached, and awareness was raised among more than 600 homes on the correct use of liquefied petroleum gas, among other achievements.

In both hurricanes, which occurred less than a month apart, WCK was working both in Houston (United States) and in Puerto Rico, where the response was very fast thanks to the union of chefs, food trucks and volunteers. Even after Hurricane Maria, nearly 4 million meals were served.

During the coronavirus pandemic, WCK distributed 400,000 meals to healthcare workers in India, worked with more than 2,500 restaurants in more than 400 cities in the United States, and supported communities in need in other countries such as Spain, Indonesia, and the Dominican Republic with a total of 40 million meals served. Additionally, WCK invested $172 million in local restaurants that served the neighborhood.

Cyclone Batsirai, equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane, destroyed entire villages and left affected areas without access for help to arrive. Immediately after the storm, WCK set up a field kitchen, purchased fresh ingredients from the community market, and used locally made pots to teach a local team of cooks to prepare more than 68,000 meals in one month.

WCK's response in Ukraine was based, at the beginning of the invasion, on serving millions of freshly prepared meals to Ukrainian families fleeing their homes, as well as people who remained there. They are currently providing aid to frontline communities in eastern and southern Ukraine, where the need for food is urgent.

These performances, which have reached hundreds of cities and towns, including seven other countries, are part of the Chefs for Ukraine program. After two years of action, 260 million meals have been served at more than 9,000 distribution points.

The largest earthquake to hit the African country destroyed buildings and caused rockfalls that made many road access impossible. From the outset, WCK reached out to affected communities by land and air, and partnered with Moroccan organizations and restaurants to build two field kitchens. In total, the NGO served more than 2.1 million hot meals and collaborated with 46 local restaurants.

In the case of Gaza, where seven of its workers were tragically murdered, the organization had been trying to send food to the extent possible for months, with more than 42 million meals served as of March 29, 2024. However, after the attack in Gaza, WCK has paused its activity in the area of ​​armed conflict, while the international community has confirmed that an independent entity will investigate the attack.

José Andrés, who has lived in the United States since he was 21, has demanded after the tragedy in Gaza: "No more loss of innocent lives. Peace begins with our shared humanity. It has to start now."