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When disaster strikes, chef José Andrés delivers food worldwide

The chef and his army of volunteers have cooked millions of meals for people in need.

Chef José Andrés makes plans to help victims of a hurricane in the Bahamas last year. This year, World Central Kitchen has given millions of meals to people affected by the coronavirus pandemic. (World Central Kitchen)

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Chef José Andrés and his army of volunteers have been quite busy this year.

They have prepared millions of meals to feed people across the United States and the world.

Andrés runs World Central Kitchen, an organization that creates community “kitchens” in places struck by catastrophes, such as a hurricane or earthquake. With pans and pots, its volunteers go to the disaster zones ready to cook for hundreds and sometimes thousands of people. This year, they have provided more than 25 million meals to people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

They have also cooked for firefighters trying to control wildfires in the Northwest part of the United States and for residents displaced by hurricanes in the Gulf Coast region. And they have fed people injured from a blast in Lebanon and survivors of bush fires in Australia. At the United States-Mexico border, they cooked for refugees living in tents.

In each mission, Andrés said, kids have stepped up to help.

They show up with a grown-up attitude of “I’m going to help my community,” Andrés said.

When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico three years ago, downing trees and destroying homes, then 10-year-old Lola was one of many helpers. She worked tirelessly preparing sandwiches and Puerto Rican sancocho — a traditional beef stew.

“By the time we moved to a bigger operation, she was not only making sandwiches, she was in charge of a line of 40 volunteers,” Andrés recalls. They helped distribute 100,000 meals daily in cities and remote areas of the island.

Some kids who volunteer are from the communities that are affected. Other times, they aren’t part of the affected community, but they go to help with their parents, just as Andrés’s three daughters have done. Andrés says that while kids don’t travel to disaster zones where it is unsafe to help, children across the United States are finding other ways to help to make this a better world. Some children raise money for charities such as World Central Kitchen, or their schools, or they help their neighbors.

“So many children are willing to take care of others,” Andrés said. “It is amazing to see the children so active.”

During most emergencies that World Central Kitchen responds to with feeding missions, the volunteers cook food from the region. Andrés also likes to share some of the food he grew up eating in his native Spain.

His favorite part is making a fire outdoors for cooking. He makes paella, a classic Spanish rice dish pronounced pah-EH-yah, in a gigantic pan that starts with 200 pounds of uncooked rice and turns into 400 pounds of food that can feed more than 400 people.

Growing up in northern Spain’s Asturias region, Andrés spent many Sundays helping his father make paella. They made enough for as many as 100 people on some weekends. His father loved sharing food, he said.

“He always said, ‘It only takes an extra handful of rice, and that’s it,’ ” Andrés said. “Some of the big problems have very simple solutions.”

That’s a lesson Andrés said he remembers during his missions. He said he knows there is always enough food to help others in need.

Andrés, 51, came to the United States when he was 21 years old to work at a restaurant in New York City, New York. Two years later, he opened Jaleo, his first restaurant in Washington, D.C. He is now the chef and owner of more than 30 restaurants, has competed in cooking shows and is a best-selling author. He was nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his disaster relief efforts.

His passion for food began as a boy. He had barely learned to walk when his mother allowed him to help mix eggs, milk and flour for pancakes. By the time he was 7 years old he was making bizcocho (a cake).

“I remember going early in the morning to pick up the bread,” Andrés recalls. His mother would give him a grocery list, and he would walk or bike to a bakery and to a fruit stand each morning. “That was almost a daily ritual.”

He still cooks some of the dishes he learned as a teenager, such as Arroz a la Cubana, one of his favorite meals as a kid. It includes fluffy rice, with tomato sauce on top, fried eggs and sweet plantains on the side.

“I serve it in some of my restaurants because it brings so many memories of my childhood,” Andrés said.

His mission, he said, is to help build a world where no child is hungry and where there is always a warm meal and a helping hand in hard times.

“There is no reason why we have in this pandemic children waiting in line to get food for their families,” Andrés said. “Every child in America should have a plate of food every day.”

This year, 18 million children — or 1 in every 4 kids — may not know where they will get their next meal, according to the nonprofit Feeding America.

Andrés said he is encouraged that he has a lot of young people helping to end that.

“There is a lot of good in children,” he said. “We need to listen more to them.”


Chef — chef

Volunteers — voluntarios

Feed — alimentar

Catastrophe — catástrofe

Cook — cocinar

Mission — misión

Help — ayuda/ayudar

Kids — niños

Food — comida

Fire — fuego

Rice — arroz

Lesson — lección

Restaurants — restaurantes

Bakery — panadería

Dishes — platos

Hungry — hambre

How to help

Kids are welcome to help some World Central Kitchen missions, but they must register at and participate with an adult. Here are other ways you can help in your community: Bring nonperishables to a local food bank, help in community cleanups, raise money for important causes or help a younger buddy with homework. Send a letter of encouragement to a member of the military, a sick person or workers helping others during the pandemic. After the pandemic, when it will be safer to socialize, carry groceries for your older neighbors or bring them food.

Celebrating Hispanic Americans

This month the United States is celebrating Hispanic cultures and the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans in the nation.

National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15, is a good time to learn about Hispanic trailblazers, such as chef José Andrés.

Did you know, for example, that José Hernández was a farmworker before he became an astronaut? Or that Ellen Ochoa was the first Latina to go to space when she served on a mission aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1993?

Naibe Reynoso, a journalist and author, recently wrote about them in two books highlighting some Latinos and Latinas who have made history. She said she hopes kids will learn and be inspired by their stories.

Her books “Be Bold! Be Brave!” and “Fearless Trailblazers” also feature scientist Albert Báez, who developed a microscope, and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, who fought for better wages for farmworkers and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

“They are heroes and role models,” said Reynoso, who is Mexican American. They also are inventors, artists, actors and athletes.

Their stories are told in English and Spanish and in rhyming verse, so they are fun to read.

With nearly 60 million Hispanic residents in the United States, the influence of Hispanic music, food, dance and art is visible almost everywhere.

“We are almost 20 percent of the entire United States population, so everyone should learn more about who we are and all of our accomplishments,” Reynoso said.

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