- Since the war began, 3 million Ukrainians have fled their country, according to the UN.
- World Central Kitchen, a US-based nonprofit, is feeding people in Ukraine and refugees in nearby countries.
- The group was founded by Michelin-star Chef José Andrés, who is also on the ground in Europe.
Since Russia’s attack on Ukraine began on February 24, a US-based nonprofit founded by a celebrity chef has already served more than one million meals to people who have fled the war.
In just three weeks, World Central Kitchen has set up shop in five countries, partnered with dozens of local chefs and restaurants in Ukraine, and opened a massive kitchen in Przemyśl, Poland, that can cook 100,000 meals per day.
“When we saw this happening on the news, there was no question. We all hopped on a plane immediately and came here to do what we do best,” Fiona Donovan, the organization’s relief operations manager, told Insider from Poland.
More than 3 million Ukrainians have fled their country since the war began, according to the United Nations, with many entering neighboring countries like Romania, Moldova, and Hungary, all of which WCK is now working in, in addition to Ukraine. But nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian refugees have entered Poland, where WCK has set up a huge portion of its operations.
“This situation is horrific,” Donovan said, adding that many refugees have nothing but their suitcases and the clothes on their back.
“When individuals are in situations like that, with that uncertainty and that trauma, we always want to be there to support,” she continued.
—World Central Kitchen (@WCKitchen) March 15, 2022
The group has teams stationed at all eight Ukraine-Poland border crossings and is serving up hot meals to refugees 24 hours a day. Such a large undertaking required coordinating with local chefs and restaurants who were able to very quickly jump into action and start feeding people with the help of WCK, according to Donovan.
In addition to sending its own team members to different cities, WCK also hired locals to serve as translators, delivery drivers, and site managers, while other locals have volunteered their time to help serve food.
‘What we do is relatively simple: We feed people,’ Donovan said.
WCK was founded in 2010 by Chef José Andrés, a Spanish-American Michelin-star chef with restaurants in several US cities. It acts as a first responder on the front lines of natural disasters and humanitarian crises to ensure people are fed.
“Offering hot food with a smile, showing people we’re thinking of them and that we’re here to help how we can is really important to our mission and how we always aim to operate,” Donovan said. “We’re offering more than just calories and sustenance but a delicious, chef-prepared tasty meal that people are going to enjoy sharing during such a difficult time.”
—José Andrés (@chefjoseandres) March 11, 2022
WCK cooked for Haitians after the devastating earthquake in 2010, for Puerto Ricans in 2017 after Hurricane Maria, and in Southern California that same year for people affected by a massive wildfire. All their experience in disaster response made it possible for them to react quickly to the war in Ukraine, even if there are some unique challenges.
“Often in a disaster situation the event happens and then it’s over,” Donovan explained, saying that usually her group goes in after the devastating event has ended.
She added: “But this is an ongoing crisis. Things change every day.”
They opened the WCK Relief Kitchen, a massive warehouse converted into a cooking operation, in Przemyśl, Poland, because it’s close to where they were seeing huge numbers of refugees crossing the border. In just weeks, WCK had installed electricity, plumbing, refrigeration, and a dozen ovens — not to mention 12 massive paella pans that can cook thousands of meals at a time.
They tend to make hearty soups and stews, or delicious, comforting food that can feed a crowd, but they’ve also been offering things like apple sauce and hot chocolate, especially for the many children that have fled the war.
—World Central Kitchen (@WCKitchen) March 11, 2022
Andrés himself has also been on the ground in Poland and Ukraine, cooking for refugees and chipping in just like everyone else.
“He does what the rest of the team does. He helps cooks the food, he goes to distribution sites, he meets the families we’re serving,” Donovan said, adding that he’s also the inspiration behind their whole operation.
WCK’s work in eastern Europe is just getting started, according to Donovan. She said the group anticipates it will be running a large-scale response for a long time, but it’s still one of the simpler aspects of the war.
“We’re here to help nourish people,” she said. “It’s pretty simple. This is a very complex situation for so many reasons, but what we do is relatively simple: We feed people.”
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