During the tense and trying days during and after Hurricane Florence, one group is looking to provide Wilmington with something that can raise any spirit: a hot meal.
World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit founded by Chef Jose Andres, came to the area to provide free meals for first responders, shelters and anyone else that needs food during and after the storm.
“We are fully up and running,” WCK Executive Director Nate Mook said.
Mook is running the Wilmington operation while another team runs the kitchen in Raleigh.
Mook said the team got here before the storm in order to get set up before communications and travel became too difficult.
World Central Kitchen grew out of the effort in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Andres and other chefs went to the island and not only cooked for people, but created a network of kitchens and chefs to provide food for millions of people.
In Wilmington, Mook said the team partnered with chef Vivian Howard, who owns Benny’s Big Time on Greenfield Street, and other chefs.
“We come in with the experience and the resources and really work with local teams here,” he said.
With more than two truckloads of food and the supplies from local chefs, Mook said the team is prepared to serve more than 100,000 meals without having to replenish supplies.
As Florence has approached, WCK has fed the New Hanover County Emergency Operation Center, the Wilmington Police Department, the hurricane shelters in New Hanover County and homeless shelters and organizations.
Once the storm is over, Mook said the plan is to continue providing meals for anyone who needs them for as long as needed.
Chef Andres, who spoke to WECT from New York, said he will be in Wilmington sometime in the next few days to assist the team.
Andres is the owner of more than two dozen restaurants, has been honored by the James Beard Foundation and awarded two Michelin stars.
To him, feeding a few people in a restaurant is the same as feeding thousands of people who are without power or a place to stay.
“We are here because we want to make sure that things are OK,” he said.
Andres said feeding people has always been a response to a disaster, and referenced Hurricane Maria, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and this summer’s wild fires in California.
“I think the feeding for a long time has been done by good people with a lot of heart, but not people who cooking is their way of life,” he said.
His organization, he said, provides the organization and networking capacity needed to feed people on a large scale.
Andres said he thinks the preparedness for Florence is higher than what it was for Maria, but that he and his team are going to make sure that no matter what happens, people don’t go hungry.
For those looking to help, Mook said they can do so either by volunteering to help deliver meals after the storm, or by donating to the organization. He added that 100 percent of the money donated is used to buy the food.
To volunteer, those in the area can email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (202) 374-3822. If cell service is causing a poor connection, call (910) 799-8841. Requests for help or meals can be made by contacting those numbers or by utilizing the Wilmington WCK Facebook page.
Donations can be made online at worldcentralkitchen.org.