Since arriving in Puerto Rico nearly a month ago to help victims of Hurricane Maria, chef and restaurateur José Andrés and his team have served more than one million hot meals — surpassing the American Red Cross’s efforts.
Following the hurricane’s devastating hit on Sept. 20, only 14 percent of the territory has regained power, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, leaving residents in need of not only clean drinking water, but fresh food and hot meals.
Andrés, who previously went to Houston and Haiti to help with hurricane relief efforts, teamed up with his nonprofit organization World Central Kitchen and more than 500 volunteers to start cooking and serving meals as soon as they landed on Sept. 25.
The chef immediately began cooking with fellow chef José Enrique, serving up batches of beef stew to 2,000 victims on their first day there, according to the Washington Post. After only a week, the crew was serving up to 25,000 meals a day and added sandwiches and paella to the menu.
The American Red Cross has yet to match what Andrés has done when it comes to serving food that’s hot and ready to eat. According to the American Red Cross vice president of communications Elizabeth Penniman, they have delivered 150,000 MREs (meals ready to eat), 302,000 meal boxes, and 1.4 million pounds of canned goods, rice, beans, crackers, fruit, vegetables and non-perishables. The supplies estimate to a total of 1.6 million meals “served.”
Penniman told the Post in an email, “To be clear, the primary mission for the American Red Cross in Puerto Rico is to provide emergency supplies and to support reunification for those missing loved ones.”
The efforts of Andrés’ team, who started the campaign #chefsforpuertorico, span across 25 kitchens with most of the meals prepared at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico.
“The reality here is very hard to escape,” Andrés said. “My question is, if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it? Fresh food is hard to come by . . . Sometimes the only fresh food people are eating is fruit we are bringing. The only hot meal they are eating is the lukewarm meal we are bringing.”
He continued: “When we establish contact with a community, we maintain that contact. When we go to a place, we take care of that place until we feel it has the right conditions to sustain itself. That’s what a relief organization should be.”