When our international friends help our fire-affected communities with sustenance.
Cat Woods

23 Jan 2020 - 11:12 AM  UPDATED 23 Jan 2020 - 12:16 PM

Australia's bushfire-affected communities of Cobargo, Quaama and Mogo have been the latest beneficiaries of meals from the self-proclaimed "first food responders", World Central Kitchen (WCK).

From its Australian base at the South Coast town of Bermagui, the World Central Kitchen team has been plating up Massaman beef curry, rice garnished with fresh herbs and chilli, and a vegetarian korma with coriander and snow peas. Plus, hundreds of sandwiches.

The WCK team, which is headquartered in Washington, DC, the US, has been collaborating with local chefs and organisations such as OzHarvest to feed fire crews and locals. It has even provided vegetables to the resident fauna at Mogo Zoo). 

Its founder, award-winning Spanish-American Jose Andres, began World Central Kitchen almost a decade ago with his wife Patricia. His goal was to respond to hunger and poverty internationally through training and social enterprise ventures.

Providing food relief in disaster situations wasn't his initial vision, however, the initiative has since grown to encompass this too. WCK has fed children living in shelters on the Mexico-US border, those displaced by earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia, people in need following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, wildfire-affected Californians, and those affected by recent unrest in Haiti.

"Firies and community members have been very vocal with their praise – they seem to really love what we've been serving!"

Dannielle Kyrillos, WCK vice president of communications, says, "World Central Kitchen initially focused on rebuilding and strengthening communities through clean cookstove initiatives, culinary training programs, and social enterprise ventures, but has always had at its core a strong belief in the transformative power of food.

"After Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017, World Central Kitchen began to mobilise urgently to serve hot meals to people affected by disaster and first responders," she says.

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WCK partners with local organisations to set up food trucks and emergency kitchens, and often in response to disasters happening on opposite sides of the globe. Its modus operandi is freshly prepared, nutritious meals designed to comfort and provide essential sustenance.

"Part of WCK's ethos and mission is to work hand in hand with and within local communities, to understand what they really need and want," says Kyrillos. "Our chefs partner with local chefs and local community members to cook food that is culturally appropriate and locally beloved.

"Firies and community members have been very vocal with their praise – they seem to really love what we've been serving!"

Indeed, the hashtag #ChefsForAustralia depicts firies, locals and volunteers enjoying meals together despite the relentless and dangerous circumstances.

WCK operates purely on donations and grants, relying almost fully on volunteers. Just as Australia has relied upon volunteer firefighters, the role of volunteers in a crisis has never been more stark whether they are local or international.

A hot plate of food in a time of need is dignity. 

"It's hope," says Kyrillos. "It's a break, if only a small one, from a trying and troubling situation. It's a reminder that you're not alone, that people care about you and are going to help you figure out what comes next."

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