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The Story Behind World Central Kitchen's #ChefsForFeds Operation

January 2019

In a 4-wheel drive truck in the hills outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico, José and Nate Mook, Executive Director of World Central Kitchen, were driving to a farm. They were back in Puerto Rico for the first time in a few months, but their hearts never left. José and Nate were checking on the progress of Plow to Plate, a partnership program launched after Hurricane Maria to reduce food insecurity on the island.

While they were in Puerto Rico, though, they were also monitoring a new humanitarian disaster affecting American citizens closer to home: the government shutdown, then in its third week. What if it continued for another week? People wouldn't receive paychecks, rent and bills would be due, and food would be scarce. What if WCK could deploy to feed the furloughed government workers and relieve at least some of the burden placed on them and their families? José's D.C. restaurants had already been providing thousands of free sandwiches to furloughed employees since the start of the shutdown, but they knew they could do more.

They hatched a plan: ThinkFoodLab, José's test kitchen on Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Washington, had temporary space available and the capacity to make thousands of meals a day. So they called up the chefs who had served alongside them in disasters around the world: wildfires and mudslides in California, earthquakes and tsunamis in Indonesia, hurricanes in Florida and North Carolina, and a volcano in Guatemala. Tim Kilcoyne, a chef from Ventura, California, came directly from a kitchen operation in Tijuana feeding refugees and migrants. Jason Collis, Elsa Corrigan, and Sam Bloch came from other operations to serve alongside D.C. chefs like Christian Irabien and Carlie Steiner.

On Twitter, José posted a video from Puerto Rico announcing the WCK activation:

It was on - the kitchen would open in two days with the capacity to serve more than 10,000 meals a day. Two weeks later, the kitchen had served more than 65,000 meals with a team of more than 100 volunteers a day, many of whom are furloughed workers themselves. Chicken wraps, curry bowls, plant-based options, and more are on the menu daily to provide a balanced and protein-filled meal.

The operation quickly spread nationwide, with more than 400 restaurants and food trucks in 35 states, as well as D.C., and Puerto Rico joining the effort to feed workers and families in need. Chefs Ming Tsai, Stephanie Izard, Michael Mina, Nyesha Arrington, Tim Love, Ken Orringer, Jamie Bissonette, Rick Bayless, Ludo Lefebvre, and many more led the nationwide effort.

Although the government re-opened, the kitchen will be open for one more week, until workers receive a paycheck.

For more information about World Central Kitchen or to donate, go here.