When disaster strikes, chef José Andrés and his non-profit World Central Kitchen are on the scene to feed the hungry. José famously provided meals after hurricanes hit Puerto Rico and Houston — and even during the U.S. government shutdown, helping to feed furloughed employees. Now, he’s on the ground in the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. We chatted with José about the devastation he’s witnessed in the region and about what motivates him to keep working to help people. (Please, if you’re able, donate to World Central Kitchen’s relief efforts here.)
Katie Couric: What are you seeing in the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian?
José Andrés: We are seeing so much destruction, especially on the northern islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama. It’s almost like the Caribbean has taken back the land. It’s just the tops of buildings that we see as we are flying over some of these places, trying to find places to set up our satellite kitchens. It is really heartbreaking.
What assistance is needed most on the ground?
There is a huge amount of need right now. We have been hearing many, many requests as we deliver meals to communities that have been devastated by the storm. Of course, food and water are needed everywhere, people and communities are stranded and running low as the days go on. We’ve gotten requests for tarps to fix roofs, supplies to rebuild their homes. Since electricity is out in a lot of places, we are distributing solar lamps. Medicines are incredibly important as people are not able to have normal access, and we will be seeing sanitation become a major problem within days. As you can see there is so, so much that the people of Bahamas need.
The World Central Kitchen team flew in as soon as possible. What has your experience been like in the Bahamas thus far?
We have deployed after a few hurricanes in the past years, and we are learning from every place we work. We realize that the key for hurricanes is pre-positioning ourselves, we saw the path of the hurricane and knew that we needed to be prepared for anything on Day 1. Sometimes people are trapped in their homes for a day or two or more … and help will come, but we know that people’s food supplies are always threatened by rain and flooding. So even a day without food can be deadly for families with young children, older people, sick people. We have been using helicopters to deliver meals to the government buildings, hospitals, and hotels that have become makeshift shelters for families, and we are setting up kitchens on the affected islands to be able to serve those communities more efficiently.
You’ve provided assistance to Puerto Rico, Houston and other areas affected by natural disasters. What has inspired you to work so hard to help others?
We are so inspired by the people we meet on the ground every day in these places, it is incredible to see how communities come together in the face of disaster to help each other, support their neighbors at a time when maybe they themselves are struggling. It is amazing to see, and keeps our team motivated to do whatever we can.
What are the best ways that we can help with efforts in the Bahamas?
We have seen such a generous response from the world through the support of our supporters and donors, it is incredible that people are reaching out and helping the great organizations on the ground right now. When you look at who you can be donating money to, it’s important to understand what work they’re doing – we see Team Rubicon, Direct Relief, Mercy Corps … they are all doing great work on the ground, so you know that your money is directly going to help those in need.
This interview originally appeared in Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.