Ziauddin has lived in Ukraine since 1991. As violence broke out, he and his daughters fled the country to Poland. He is one of more than 660,000 Ukrainians who’ve left the country. As more and more people flee, WCK says it will continue to expand its response to serve anyone in need.
Hurricanes, earthquakes, a pandemic and now war.
Chef José Andrés and World Central Kitchen (WCK) are once again answering the call to feed those in need, whatever the crisis. This time, they are providing meals to Ukrainian refugees in what has already been called the largest European mass migration event in over 30 years.
At least 660,000 people, mainly women and children, have fled Ukraine in the first five days after the Russian attacks began, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. More than 280,000 of these refugees have relocated to Poland, crossing from one of the eight entry points on the Ukrainian-Polish border.
Tens of thousands of meals for Ukrainian refugees in just one week
On Feb. 24, Andrés tweeted that he and his WCK team were on their way to Poland to set up operations. The next day, CEO Nate Mook shared that a WCK team at one of the crossing points in Poland had already distributed 1,700 hot meals that evening alone.
Since then, the announcements have continued coming and coming from different WCK sites opening not only across Poland, but also in Romania and Moldova. At each location, thousands of free hot meals, especially soups and stews, are served each day — often in below-zero temperatures and snow flurries.
“Soups, in these freezing temperatures, are highly needed for everybody, especially for people who have been walking for hours, if not days,” Andrés recently told the Washington Post.
Mook estimated WCK would serve 10,000 meals on Monday, March 1, and an additional 25,000 the next day.
First to the front lines
How is World Central Kitchen able to feed so many large crowds so quickly, especially in an area seemingly in chaos with more people streaming in every hour?
As stated on its website, WCK “is first to the frontlines” and “by partnering with organizations on the ground and activating a network of food trucks or emergency kitchens, WCK provides freshly made, nutritious meals to survivors of disasters quickly and effectively.”
Chef Andrés, a Spanish-born restaurateur with almost 30 restaurants worldwide, founded World Central Kitchen in 2010 to provide fresh, nourishing meals when communities need them most. Andrés and WCK garnered international attention for their fast response in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017, serving more than 3.6 million meals when other organizations couldn’t even get on the island. They did this by utilizing a network of local food trucks, restaurant suppliers, culinary schools and more to get to where people needed hot meals the most.
“To a chef, the world is full of kitchens, each one an opportunity to get involved and feed people in need,” Andrés said in a 2018 interview with TriplePundit after being named the 3BL Forum’s Humanitarian of the Year. “I know the importance of action, of diving right in, of the urgency of now.”
#BuildLongerTables, say #ChefsForUkraine
Since the efforts in Puerto Rico, Andrés and WCK have gone on to feed communities in countries including Mozambique and Guatemala. They have also fed those in need in the U.S., serving meals to those affected by natural disasters, wildfires and the COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020.
Last year, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos awarded Andrés $100 million to further World Central Kitchen’s mission. On Feb. 25, Andrés tweeted that he was using funds from the prize to help offset costs for assisting Ukrainian refugees.
In this same video, an emotional Andrés stressed the need for everyone to focus on building what he often refers to as “longer tables” to feed and support those most in need.
“We need to be a force for good. Do you know how we do this? By believing in longer tables, we don’t start bombing. Food at the center of communities: That’s the way we will build a better world.”
Image credit: World Central Kitchen via Facebook
Megan is a writer and editor interested in sharing stories of positive change and resilience. She is the author of Show Up and Bring Coffee, a book highlighting how to support friends who are parents of disabled children. You can follow her at JoyfulBraveAwesome.com.