Have you heard of the World Central Kitchen (WCK) organization? Neither had I until I listened to Matt Galloway on CBC Radio’s The Current and he told me all about it. The not-profit WCK organization was founded by Jose Andres, a well-known chef with restaurants in Spain and in the United States. Andres took off running with the WCK in 2010 after a catastrophic earthquake devastated Haiti. And the rest is, as they say, history.
Andres told CBC Radio that the work his organization does to feed people is all about empowering those they are helping. “It is about bringing food to the hungry and bringing water to the thirsty. That’s it,” Andres said. The WCK landed in Poland twelve hours after the war in the Ukraine erupted and they immediately started to feed the many refugees. The people of Poland joined in, helping wherever possible. “It was people taking care of people,” Andres said, in the 440+ restaurants feeding the hungry and channeling money through the economy.
What struck me about Andres’ speaking of what they had accomplished and were accomplishing was the tone of his voice – it was filled with emotional fire, a sense of purpose and commitment, of urgency and focus. “When the worst of humanity seems to be happening,” Andres told Matt Galloway. “The best humans show up to take care of fellow citizens.” Andres’ voice cracked. When Galloway asked Andres about the risk inherent in working in such extreme conditions, Andres had an immediate answer. “We’re not going to be ending the big problems that we face on this earth without taking some risks.”
Jose Andres is Spanish-born and is fifty-two years old. He moved to the United States when he was twenty-one. I visited WCK’s website and read about their projects and how they view people in crisis and how they can help, and it is nothing short of inspirational. Andres is of the thinking that food isn’t just to solve hunger. “It is a plate of hope. It tells you in your darkest hour that someone somewhere cares about you.” The organization first reaches out locally to source the food products and to hire staff needed. “Food is the fastest way to rebuild our sense of community,” says Andres. He has created a new model used to respond to providing relief to communities devastated by war or environmental disasters, to create “resilient food systems”. The organization provides relief training that gives professionals in the food industry and culinary students the safe and effective tools and protocols to provide meals in communities in peril.
Andres received the National Humanities Medal in 2015 from President Obama and in 2018 he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work. The WCK organization financially supports food banks that provide free food throughout the world. The charity has a score of 100.00 earning them a four-star rating by charitynavigator.org. The non-profit score for accountability and transparency is 100%.
We Feed People is a National Geographic Documentary Film about the work of the Word Central Kitchen, released in March 2022 and directed by Ron Howard. The film has been given a score of 100% by Rotten Tomatoes. Andres was reluctant to have a film made because he didn’t want it to be about him. The work is done by volunteers within the organization and that is the story that he agreed to and what Ron Howard brought to the screen. The film follows what started as a “scrappy group of grassroots volunteers to becoming one of the most highly regarded humanitarian aid organizations in the disaster relief sector”. The film documents the WCK organization’s work in Haiti and Puerto Rico and beyond. Andres says in his restaurants he “feeds the few in good times” and with his organization he “feeds the many in bad times”. WCK has eighty people in its organization. In Puerto Rico, they partnered with 150+ farms to help them recover, to provide loans and grants, and a means of offering hope to its residents to stay and rebuild.
When the World Central Kitchen arrives in communities beaten down by disaster, he assures the people he encounters. “We’re here next to you,” Andres says, and WCK stays until the community has been righted. Andres’ philosophy is “longer tables is what builds a better tomorrow.”