Our Voices

The World Central Kitchen: Hope Through Food

  • By
  • Zoel Boublil
  • Eric Yang

The World Central Kitchen is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing meals to regions affected by humanitarian, climate, and community crises. Founded by chef José Andres, the organization was created as a response to the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake. Since then, the World Central Kitchen has responded to crises all over the world, from providing nearly 4 million meals in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria to serving 1.39 million meals to refugees at the US-Mexican border. In response to COVID, the World Central Kitchen worked with over 2,500 restaurants to provide 40 million meals to communities across the US. In total, the organization has served more than 300 million meals worldwide.

When it comes to disaster relief, WCK approaches global problems from a local perspective. As a first-responder to disasters, they create a network of local restaurants, supported by foreign aid, to serve at-risk communities. By working with local chefs, it focuses on cooking fresh meals from nearby cuisines to serve as comfort food and a form of cultural connection. Beyond disaster relief, it also operates long-term resilience programs to provide long-term support, including the Food Producer Network to promote sustainable agriculture in Latin America. They operate with the belief that food is not just a human right but also a source of hope in dark times.

Beyond their historical work, like Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the José Andres-founded project has also been quick to respond to the emerging humanitarian crisis that is developed as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the beginning of the fighting, WCK began by setting up shop at the Ukrainian-Polish border, supplying much-needed food to refugees 24-hours a day. Since then, it has ramped up operations, providing hundreds of thousands of fresh meals and tens of thousands of food kits to those affected by the crisis per day, and setting up shop on the frontlines in Kherson and Donetsk. These dangerous conditions speak to the credit of the organizations and its volunteers, as their kitchens have in the past been targeted by Russian missile attacks. However, with a current staff of over 550 restaurants and thousands of chefs/other personnel affiliated with WCK in Ukraine, Andrés’ NGO shows no signs of slowing down its mission to combat food insecurity in this warzone. This network allows the WCK to both harness the power of foreign volunteers and grassroots Ukrainian cooks and farmers in order to provide not only food, but a feeling of dignity and self-sufficiency. This shows a distinct evolution from the World Central Kitchen’s normal focus on emergency food support, partially because many other organizations have been reticent to step up and create a significant and sustainable operation in these dangerous zones. Yet, as of now, the WCK seems ready for the challenge. As their founder José Andrés once said, “their enemy is pessimism, hunger, and the not-possible.”

Inspired by the WCK’s work as Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Youth Advisory Board members, we decided to take a deeper dive into food insecurity, in a quest to develop concrete paths to a better, more just and peaceful world. While the United States has the highest GDP in the world, over 22 million students in America rely on school breakfast and lunch programs for food. During the summer this problem often gets worse, as children face a higher rate of food insecurity while schools are closed, which makes the work of nonprofits like the World Central Kitchen and local food banks so much more crucial. For example, the non-profit Philabundance provides meal kits to students over the summer. Students of color and lower income communities are disproportionately affected by food insecurity in the U.S., and by providing meals during the summer, organizations are able to provide hope and dignity to often vulnerable communities. No matter what communities they serve, and where they are, we salute the people and organizations that stand on the front lines against hunger and malnutrition.