As I watched the trauma unfold in Ukraine over the last 60 plus days, I spent hours researching NGOs to determine where to best send financial assistance to the Ukrainian people (almost 4 million at last count) who fled to Poland, Moldova and their other European neighbors and the millions uprooted within Ukraine by the war started by the most evil man in Europe since Adolph Hitler. My attention was finally focused on Jorge Andres and World Central Kitchen (WCK). After reading the many tributes to his personal courage, tireless energy and tremendous impact, our family has contributed $25,000 to WCK and intends to do more in the year ahead, because the war and the needs and suffering of the brave Ukrainian people will not end soon. As I write this tribute, WCK hasdistributed 35,000,000 pounds of food and 100,000,000 meals utilizing 5,000 distribution centers throughout Ukraine and neighboring countries. I learned that Ron Howard directed a feature-length documentary on Andres and WCK called simply “We Feed People” that will premiere on Disney+ later this month.
Jose Andres was born in Spain and gained fame and success by establishing a group of outstanding restaurants in Washington DC and New York City where he created his unique cooking style and fabulous recipes. He founded WCK in 2010 in response to the truly devastating and catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. His and WCK’s method of operation is to be a first responder and then to collaborate and galvanize solutions with local chefs to solve the problem of hunger immediately following disasters of various kinds. In addition to Haiti and Ukraine, WCK was one of the first to arrive in Puerto Rico after they were trashed in 2017 by Hurricane Maria, The Bahamas when they met a similar fate during Hurricane Dorian in 2019 and over the last 12 years he and his team have been in many countries (another example Beirut after the massive waterfront explosion caused by a stockpile of ammonium nitrate that devastated a vast swath of the city in 2020), as well as responding to many natural disasters here at home: in Houston TX following Hurricane Harvey, Ventura County, CA in response to the Thomas Fire, Butte County, CA teaming with the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company to provide Thanksgiving dinners for 15,000 survivors and fire fighters impacted by the Camp Fire, in Sonoma County, working with local chefs such as Guy Fieri, during the Kincaid Fire, in South Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, providing 50,000 meals to passengers stranded and quarantined on the Grand Princess cruise ship in San Francisco in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and among many others, transformed eight of his restaurants into soup kitchens to support the needy as the infection rates and deaths skyrocketed in 2020.
In recognition of his service, Time Magazine named him one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Jose says it best:
“Food relief is not just a meal that keeps hunger away. It is a plate of hope. It tells you in your darkest hour that someone, somewhere, cares about you. This is the real meaning of comfort food. We don’t just deliver raw ingredients and expect people to fend for themselves. And we don’t just dump free food into a disaster: we source and hire locally wherever we can, which also helps jump-start their economic recovery.
People begin exhibiting serious health and psychological complications if they go without meaningful nutrition for as little as three days. After a disaster, food is also the fastest way to rebuild a sense of community. At times like these, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges we face and the speed of each new crisis. But many complex problems have simple solutions. Sometimes you just need to decide to do something. Sometimes you just need to show up with a sandwich or some warm rice and beans. You would be amazed at the power of a plate of food.”
If you too are looking for the right way to help those in need, check out the WCK website (www.wck.org) or watch the Ron Howard documentary.
God Bless Jose Andres and the hard-working and dedicated staff at WCK and all of the chefs who volunteer to help, crisis after crisis.