As Puerto Rico continued to recover from Hurricane Maria, the island was shaken by two earthquakes and several aftershocks this past week.
The latest natural disasters has part of the island in the dark, which means some people are without the ability to cook a meal. But for those folks, the World Central Kitchen has arrived to help.
Started by José Andrés, a beloved chef in D.C. cuisine, the organization has been in Puerto Rico since Tuesday, cooking thousands of meals.
Josh Phelps from D.C. is a relief operations manager with World Central Kitchen and is in the city of Ponce. He said the organization has mobilized in several areas impacted by the quakes.
“Anybody who contacts us with a lead on where to go feed, whether it’s an official government shelter that needs help, an unofficial shelter or churches you know — people are in plazas, just places that they feel safe and open-air areas — we are we are running those leads down,” Phelps said.
Phelps said when the organization fired up its kitchens last Tuesday, after the first quake, they served 2,000 meals.
Phelps said that although the organization has had a presence on the island since Hurricane Maria in 2017, there have been 60,000 meals since Tuesday — with Sunday being the busiest day, with 15,000 meals served.
“The demand it keeps going up every day,” he said. “Every day that somebody’s power’s out is maybe the day that they weren’t able to keep food cold anymore.”
According to Phelps, World Central Kitchen is using donations to buy ingredients for meals in bulk from distributors on the island, which is not only getting food to fryers faster, but it also feeds the economy, which Phelps said is important to the organization.
He said despite a landslide on a main road they depend on to bring in goods, World Central Kitchen has been able to get their orders delivered.
One popular piece of cookware helping cooks keep up with demand are large paella pans, which Phelps said in some cases can produce 800 meals per pan. Dishes like paellas and pasta can be cooked quickly in the pans, and Phelps said that if need be, they can be used to whip up 50,000 meals in just one day.
Each meal contains a starch, protein and vegetables, and donated water.
“We’ve been really able to do full service meals for people, lunch and dinner, twice a day,” Phelps said.
One struggle for not only those being served, but those preparing the meals has been the aftershocks according to Phelps.
“Nobody wants to be inside, stadiums are groaning as these aftershocks hit,” said Phelps.
Many cooks are working outdoors in tents, and for those who are inside buildings, Phelps said doors are being kept open so volunteers can escape quickly.
Despite the frightening conditions, Phelps said his team will continue to work as long as they are needed on the island. He also said they always have room for more volunteers on the island, along with monetary donations to keep the food orders coming.
“The demand is high and we will be here until it’s not,” Phelps said.