- Chef José Andrés and members of his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, are on the ground in the Bahamas to aid survivors in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
- The storm first made landfall on the island nation as a Category 5 hurricane on Sunday and stalled out above the Bahamas for two days, leaving behind severe destruction and at least 20 casualties.
- Josh Phelps, the relief operations manager for World Central Kitchen, spoke with Insider about the logistics and emotional toll of feeding more than 10,000 people per day after disaster strikes.
- You can follow World Central Kitchen’s Twitter account for live updates of the relief effort and donate to the cause here.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
After a devastating earthquake ravaged Haiti back in 2010, renowned Spanish-American chef José Andrés founded World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit devoted to feeding people affected by natural and man-made disasters.
Nearly 10 years and more than 8 million meals later, Andrés and World Central Kitchen are on the ground in the Bahamas to aid survivors in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
The storm first made landfall on the island nation as a Category 5 hurricane on Sunday and stalled out above the Bahamas for two days, leaving behind severe destruction and at least 20 casualties on the northwestern islands of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Josh Phelps, the relief operations manager for World Central Kitchen, told Insider on Tuesday that he and his team began planning out their relief efforts at their base at Atlantis Bahamas, a resort just off of Nassau where Andrés has a seafood restaurant.
As @chefjoseandres and our WCK Relief Team attempt to fly north to Abaco right now with sandwiches and fruit to deliver, the first images are coming back to @GuardianNassau from assessment flights. The catastrophic damage from #HurricaneDorian is already clear. pic.twitter.com/CxBq157pfF
— World Central Kitchen (@WCKitchen) September 3, 2019
“We’ve been spending the time here at Atlantis using their catering kitchen to make sandwiches,” Phelps said. “First and foremost we have to get the food together.”
“One of the things we do at the beginning of a lot of the missions is to start making José’s signature ham and cheese sandwich. That’s a good way to get food ready and it’s also a good way to start activating a volunteer base.”
The organisation has found help with guests at the Atlantis. Since planes have been grounded for much of the week, many tourists who are stuck at the resort have chosen to pitch in.
“People from the resort who were tired of sitting around in their rooms while it’s windy and rainy outside have been joining us in the catering kitchen to do our first round of a couple thousand sandwiches,” Phelps said.
But sandwiches are “just the tip of the spear” of World Central Kitchen’s post-disaster efforts, according to Phelps
World Central Kitchen staff and volunteers typically set up kitchens to serve hot food on the ground immediately after a given disaster comes to an end. Even though World Central Kitchen’s first priority is to provide sustenance for people who otherwise may not have food readily available to them, Andrés, Phelps, and the rest of the staff strive to serve “culturally sensitive, restaurant quality” meals.
“The most important part is keeping people alive, but it’s not just for that,” Phelps said. “José likes to say ‘we’re feeding their soul.’ We want to give them something that they like and food with dignity, not just something we think is good for them. A lot of thought goes into the prep, and that’s why we like to work with chefs.”
But beyond the food itself, Phelps stressed the importance of acting as an empathetic listener to survivors and providing a space where people feel comfortable.
“It isn’t just going up and handing off some food and waving goodbye,” Phelps said. “For me, one of the most important parts of this is listening to their stories. Some of these people may not have seen anybody in a couple of days or a week when you finally get to them. People just want to be heard and want to be listened to and know that people out there are thinking of them.”
“It can really tug at your heartstrings,” he added. “These people have been through a lot, so you can be a support for them in a lot of ways, both physically with a meal and emotionally.”
The World Central Kitchen team was delayed in deploying efforts on the ground in the northwestern islands of the Bahamas due to the total demolition of the region’s infrastructure
The complicated logistics of moving equipment and volunteers through the heavily flooded streets of the northwest islands initially prevented the World Central Kitchen team from reaching Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Phelps said Andrés first flew to Abaco on Tuesday evening so he could survey the damage and begin to assess how World Central Kitchen could best execute relief efforts.
Taken by my @WCKitchen team as I was taking off! Heading now to deliver meals and hopefully identify spot for cooking on Abaco… May stay night!! No electricity or phones will work there but will share when we can… #ChefsForBahamas pic.twitter.com/OTpHq3etcd
— José Andrés (@chefjoseandres) September 3, 2019
In the days since, the team has been able to use helicopters, barges, and ampihibious vehicles to deliver sandwiches and establish field kitchens using everything from gas burners to paella pans.
Phelps explained that World Central Kitchen has enough materials and volunteers to set up “at least four kitchens that could serve no less than 10,000 people a day, most likely more.”
Still, he made it clear that the most challenging part of the Bahamas relief effort would be “getting the food they have into the hands of people who need it.”
To bolster its efforts, World Central Kitchen will partner with shelters, local governments, church leaders, and anyone else in these communities who can help them effectively allocate resources.
While awaiting the “all clear” to head out, Phelps said the organisation also strategised with purchasing agents and vendors to locate food on the islands and execute a strategy to divert supplies initially intended for Florida to the Bahamas.
“We’re getting our hands on what we can that’s here,” Phelps said. “And on the other hand we’re mobilizing some of the food we have together for Florida to get shipped out via boat out of Miami. We’re just trying to be as organised as possible and do all we can to get food to these folks who may not have eaten in two or three days.”
.@chefjoseandres showed us these pics of a ship he’s hired from Florida, with a helipad that’ll be used to land 2 helicopters he’s rented, in order to deliver food to people devastated by Dorian in the Bahamas. The chef & his @WCKitchen team also have an amphibious vehicle. pic.twitter.com/sO0E9tnetV
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) September 4, 2019
In order to do so, World Central Kitchen will need to add more people to its current ranks
Phelps said that World Central Kitchen has had less than 10 people on the ground in the Bahamas “for the past few days,” but that they are expecting a lot of chefs to arrive in the near future.
In addition, the organisation relies heavily upon volunteers from the affected region to mobilize on their behalf.
“Local support and local volunteers are always a huge resource for us,” Phelps said. “There’s no one usually locally who hasn’t been touched. Even here, everyone has friends or family on these other islands, even if they live in New Providence.”
In addition to all of these efforts, World Central Kitchen operates long-term programs aimed at advancing human and environmental health, including offering access to professional culinary training, creating jobs, and improving food security through locally-led approaches, according to a representative for the organisation.
In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, Phelps thinks a meal can go a long way
“If it’s one less thing off their plate in terms of where a meal is coming from, survivors can think more clearly about the more technical aspects of recovery,” Phelps said. “The people here so far seem very resilient. I’m always impressed with the way people pick themselves up after something like this.”
- Read more:
- A woman who survived Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas told us people weren’t prepared for 20-foot storm surges, and now the islands are ‘absolutely destroyed’
- Shocking satellite photos show the vast scale of the flooding caused by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas
- Here’s how you can help the survivors of Hurricane Dorian, which has left widespread destruction in the Bahamas
- Trump may have broken federal law by altering Hurricane Dorian’s path on a map to validate his false claim that it could hit Alabama