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Thanksgiving in Paradise

November 2018

The day started at 4:30am, when Chef José Andrés sent an inspirational message to the Chef Relief Network team that had flown to Chico, California, from around the world to support World Central Kitchen's operation feeding those affected by destructive and deadly Camp Fire. The group had been on the ground since two days after the fire started, feeding evacuees and first responders. Now they were preparing for their biggest undertaking yet: preparing and serving thousands of meals to celebrate Thanksgiving Together at Chico State University, alongside the Town of Paradise and Sierra Nevada Brewery.

"Here you are, serving people you don't know, giving love and hope one plate at a time," José wrote. "We don't feed people - we feed souls. We the people, together as one."

With that, the day was off. It was a blur of cooking: 700 turkeys, 1,000 pumpkin pies, almost 2 tons of mashed potatoes and green beans, 500 pounds of fresh cranberries. And people: more than 1,000 volunteers came to work with the team throughout the day, helping in the kitchen, serving guests, delivering meals, and cleaning up. José was there, as were his friends Guy Fieri (who was manning the smokers, roasting turkeys from 4am on) and Tyler Florence, who brought his chef team and spent the day greeting volunteers and delivering meals to those in need.

Over the course of the day, thousands of meals were served to evacuees from Paradise and surrounding towns, and the team hit the road to deliver to those in need throughout the area. A group of 30 California State Firefighters who came to volunteer and serve were welcomed with a standing ovation from the gathered group, and were thanked with an even longer applause when they left. The day was exhausting but satisfying, a long way from many attendees' normal Thanksgiving traditions but a way to celebrate even after the devastation of the fire.

At the end of the day, José echoed his early morning text to a group of gathered volunteers, quoting the novelist John Steinbeck: "Whenever there is a fight so hungry people will eat... we will be there."

For more coverage of the day, check out stories in the New York Times, The Guardian, and The Washington Post, among others. 

(Photo credit: Scott Hoag)