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José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen Feeds People in Disaster and War Zones


Since its founding in 2010 by the chef José Andrés after a devastating earthquake in Haiti, the relief group World Central Kitchen has turned up at some of the globe’s biggest disasters, crises and conflicts, with the goal of doing what chefs do best: feed people.

The nonprofit group teams up with local food providers, governments and restaurateurs to quickly scale up and provide meals to people in need. Last week, in an update on its work in Gaza, the organization said the devastation and need there was “the most dire we’ve ever seen or experienced in our 15-year history.”

On Tuesday, the group said it would pause its operations in Gaza and the region after it said seven of its workers were killed in an airstrike. The organization said the Israeli military was behind the attack.

The suspension will deprive the increasingly famished population of Gaza of a stream of humanitarian food aid, at a time when practically every source of provisions is critical for staving off what experts have been warning for weeks is an imminent famine.

The group says it operates 68 “community kitchens” in Gaza, and has sent in more than 1,700 trucks loaded with food and cooking equipment so far in nearly six months of war.

World Central Kitchen is a relatively new aid provider in Gaza, where people have been heavily reliant on humanitarian assistance for decades because of a long-running Israeli blockade. But the group has garnered notice by making bold moves. In March, it became the first entity to deliver aid by sea to the enclave in nearly two decades by building a makeshift jetty fashioned out of rubble.

The first aid ship that arrived in mid-March delivered 200 tons of rice, flour and lentils, along with canned tuna, chicken and beef, according to the group. A second, larger shipment with twice as much aid was due to arrive in the coming days, after departing from Cyprus on Saturday.

After the first delivery was unloaded from the ship, it was distributed in Gaza by truck, according to the group, which said that it coordinated its efforts with the Israeli military. The workers killed this week were leaving an aid warehouse in central Gaza, the group said.

“Distribution is the Achilles’ heel of any disaster response,” Mr. Andrés wrote in 2020 in an Opinion piece for The New York Times about responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Initiatives to send aid into Gaza via its Mediterranean coast were born of frustrations among aid agencies that supplies by land were being held up by Israeli inspections at border crossings. World Central Kitchen has said an average of 10 of its trucks were being let into Gaza out of the nearly 20 it was sending daily to a crossing in Rafah, in southern Gaza, and that on some days, none were getting through.

The nonprofit group has grown rapidly in recent years, with more than $500 million in contributions and grants in 2022, a fourfold increase from the previous year, the most recent years for which figures are available. As of 2022, the organization said it had 94 employees.

It supplied food in Puerto Rico in the days after Hurricane Maria swept through, dispatched volunteers to quake-stricken Morocco and distributed meals in Ukraine in the midst of the Russian invasion.

In Ukraine, a restaurant operated by World Central Kitchen in Kharkiv, near the country’s border with Russia, was hit by a missile less than two months into the war, wounding four staff members, according to the group’s chief executive at the time.

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