José Andrés on Puerto Rican Relief Effort

José Andrés, head of the non-profit World Central Kitchen, recently released a book about the relief effort for Hurricane Maria. In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria caused untold, horrific destruction on the island of Puerto Rico.

The island, which is a territory of the United States, was without power and food for weeks that dragged into months. Thankfully, Andrés and WCK were able to help feed millions in the storm’s aftermath.

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José Andrés and WCK Provide Millions of Meals

That header is no exaggerations: Andrés’ non-profit created 3.7 million meals to aid Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the storm. The organization was able to activate more than twenty thousand volunteers for this undertaking, and it resulted in a huge boost to morale for those affected by the storm.

Andrés co-authored a book with Richard Wolffe called We Fed An Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time. In the book, the authors recount the effort to keep millions on the island fed. Additionally, they chronicle what it’s like working with traditional NGOs in these relief efforts.

While Andrés and Wolffe were happy that the Salvation Army, Red Cross and FEMA were there to help, those organizations didn’t escape criticism.

Traditional Disaster Relief is Too Slow

Andrés describes how NGOs and traditional disaster relief is glacially slow-paced. Red tape, operational norms and budget constraints largely bog down these “unwieldy” organizations in ways that WCK tries to avoid. In the book, Andrés and Wolffe describe that they find the normal relief channels to be “inflexible” and unable to react quickly to a changing situation.

In an interview with Vice, Andrés describes how his non-profit is able to rapidly help affected areas by eschewing typical relief channels. He describes the normal process of having to learn a region’s political climate and logistics as being far too slow to be practical.

“But when you come and you’re serving the local community,” Andrés states in the interview, “and you partner with the community leaders and you work as one, you are already accessing information by working with them that will make you successful would take you months or years to learn. So that’s what we are getting very quick at.”

Andrés’ Only Regret

When Vice asked what Andrés regrets about the Puerto Rican relief effort, if anything, he had a surprising answer. He stated “I wish I did ten or twenty, or the thirty million meals that FEMA requested. Because they knew that was the need.” Despite having created millions of meals, the chef still wishes he could have done more. We’re certain that, the next time WCK is called out for relief, Andrés will bring the experience from Puerto Rico with him to help feed even more people.