A barge filled with 200 tons of food arrives in Gaza from World Central Kitchen

A barge carrying 200 tons of food from World Central Kitchen arrives in Gaza

Photo from World Central Kitchen

I'm A Cook: Feeding Hope In Gaza

As children in Gaza starve and rapacious capitalism, fractured governments and toothless international groups all fail to act, let it not be said that one person - albeit with extraordinary grit, heart, political will, clarity of vision - cannot make a difference. This week, chef José Andrés' World Central Kitchen, working with Jordan, UAE and Cyprus, made the first maritime delivery of food to Gaza. Please give this man his Nobel Peace Prize already. Also send him some money.

Since moving to the U.S. decades ago, the Spanish-born, award-winning Andrés, 54, has opened multiple restaurants in D.C and then across the country, including in New York, Chicago, Orlando and Las Vegas. In 2010, after volunteering at D.C.'s Central Kitchen helping repurpose food for those in need, he founded World Central Kitchen, whose chefs and first responders bring meals to people hit by natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies around the globe. Since his first mission to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, he and a worldwide "Chef Corps" of local cooks have made and distributed over 350 million meals - to Puerto Ricans devastated by Hurricane Maria, COVID-trapped cruise ship passengers in California, flooded-out Houston and, in 2022, in their first active war zone, to Ukraine, where, when a Russian missile hit the Kharkiv restaurant they were working in, injuring four WCK workers, team members insisted, "We wanna keep cooking. We wanna keep fighting.'"

"We all are Citizens of the World. What's good for you, must be good for all," reads WCK's website. "If you are lost, share a plate of food with a stranger...You will find who you are." Blunt, droll, reportedly merciless on the basketball court and seemingly tireless, Andrés views food as "the great connector" and his mission as both plain and existential: "Feeding humanity, feeding hope." "Without empathy, nothing works," he says. "A meal in a time of crisis is so much more than a plate of food - it's hope, it's dignity, it's a sign that someone cares." He argues that, in any dire situation, people must be treated with respect, "and the way you do that is being next to them in their darkest hour" - when, he adds, "you make magic happen...and you see the best of humanity." Deemed by many "a light in the darkness," Andrés often seems to be everywhere - he also has a podcast Longer Tables, a new cookbook, an upcoming show Dinner Party Diaries (Bryan Cranston!) - and now he's in Gaza.

With Israel's savage siege trapping over two million Gazans, the U.N. says over a million children, one in three, are now "acutely malnourished" - aka very hungry. Grotesquely, Israel has still attacked at least 26 starving crowds waiting for rare aid convoys; Thursday, they killed at least 20 people and wounded over 150. Since October, WCK teams have been in Gaza; often working with Jordan, they've served over 35 million meals, 350,000 a day; sent (or tried to send) 1,400 aid trucks across the Rafah crossing; and opened 60 kitchens, with ten more in the works. Meanwhile, for two months Andrés met with Israeli, Egyptian, Jordanian officials to get permits, mainly from Israel's COGAT, to approach Gaza from the sea in what he calls "the most politically complex environment WCK has operated in." Their goal: To establish a maritime highway so boats can continuously deliver food to a devastated people, especially children, pleading, "We want to eat, we want to live...God willing."

Palestinian child asks Egyptian soldiers for food in a letterwww.youtube.com

As widespread famine looms and the two sides skirmish and stall, the deadly stalemate brought Andrés back to WCK's origin story, of people in need facing "bureaucracy’s failures, inefficiencies, and prioritizing risk aversion over human lives." "This is a time for action, not for hollow promises," he says. "Our job is to feed people in crisis, no matter what." With food potentially "the difference between life and death" for millions, "the greatest failure now would be failing to try." Still, the task was daunting. Working with King Abdullah II of Jordan, the United Arab Emirates - which co-financed the mission with WCK - the government of Cyprus as a departure point, and the Spanish rescue charity Open Arms, they encountered a host of technical and political issues. For starters, Israel has so completely razed Gaza there are no working ports left; for weeks a team from WCK and Open Arms has been building a jetty with rubble from bombed buildings and whatever machinery they could salvage.

The location remains secret; citing other "security" concerns, Israel blocked the effort at almost every turn. For permission to build the jetty, Israel insisted international crews have no contact with Gazans. The result was a complex, months-long delivery system: In February, the Open Arms rescue ship set sail from Spain for the port of Larnaca on Cyprus, 280 miles from Gaza, in Operation Safeena - boat in Arabic. Last week, Cyprus crews loaded 200 tons of food - rice, flour, legumes, canned goods - on pallets onto a larger cargo barge, strapped to the Open Arms, that can only sail slowly in relatively calm waters; after three days at sea, it neared Gaza, where two tugs pushed it to the jetty; there, WCK crews unloaded the pallets, re-loaded them on trucks, and drove them to WCK kitchens and other distribution points. Weather already delayed the first shipment; Andrés also cited, "The sand, the tide, the wind, the machines, the permits, having enough cement for the jetty, having enough fuel for the cranes..."

On Friday, he jubilantly announced the first delivery from "Chefs For the People" had safely arrived: "We did it!" He noted the load included dates for Ramadan, and that 500 more tons of food await in Cyprus, along with ships to haul it and machinery to load it. Andrés stresses this is "a test, a pilot" designed to inaugurate a maritime corridor to deliver thousands of tons a week to Gaza, and inspire other multi-national humanitarian initiatives: "Let's have less diplomacy by meetings and more diplomacy by action - today, not in a month." But he's also adamant this is a stopgap measure in a crisis that shouldn't be happening. His 200 tons is equivalent to 10 or 12 truckloads; before the war, 500 trucks a day brought in aid that still wasn't enough to meet the needs of stricken Gazans. As long as Israel persists in occupying Gaza, land crossings should be open and human decency should prevail: "Everyone has the power to help or feed the many. We all have the power to move the needle."

Once word of World Central Kitchen's mission began to spread, news coverage followed. In one post, Andrés mockingly quoted a Washington Post headline that read, "Who Is José Andrés, the Chef Behind the First Aid Ship to Gaza?" He responded with, "Really? 30 years in DC and my favorite newspaper asks who I am? I'm a cook. Thanks." Still, the poignant, often heartbroken thanks that poured in from those who heard of, donated to, felt a deep need to acknowledge the project reflected the common grief and rage and gutting sense of helplessness so many have felt watching the horrors in Gaza unfold. "Heartfelt thanks to the warrior angels," wrote one. Also: "Thank you thank you thank you for respect to Palestine," "Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I wish you all safety and Allah bless you more a thousand fold," "You are the change we need to see in the world," and, "May the Almighty reward you, may the Almighty grant Palestinians peace. Amen." Until then, donate here.

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