IDF backed WCK's Gaza work, promised coordination, security

Since October 7, World Central Kitchen has served millions of meals in Israel and Gaza

Non-political aid agency, founded in 2010, provided over 500,000 meals to displaced, vulnerable Israelis in wake of Hamas attack, has been working for months to get food into Strip

A man carries a cardboard box of food aid provided by World Central Kitchen in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 17, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
A man carries a cardboard box of food aid provided by World Central Kitchen in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 17, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

World Central Kitchen (WCK), the food charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, called a halt to its work in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday after an Israeli airstrike killed seven of its workers, mostly foreigners, the previous night.

The group, which said it will make decisions about longer-term plans in the region soon, has been bringing desperately needed food to Gazans facing widespread hunger and pioneered the recently launched effort to deliver aid by sea from Cyprus. Its absence, even if temporary, is likely to deepen the war-torn territory’s misery as the United Nations warns that famine is imminent.

Founded in 2010, WCK delivers freshly prepared meals to people in need following natural disasters, like hurricanes or earthquakes, or to those enduring conflict. The group has also provided meals to migrants arriving at the southern United States border, as well as to hospital staff who worked relentlessly during the coronavirus pandemic.

The aid group sends in teams who can cook meals that appeal to the local palate on a large scale and fast, and the nonpolitical group has operated around the world, from Haiti to Ukraine, Chile, Japan, Afghanistan, Syria and more.

In the wake of Hamas’s devastating October 7 attack on Israel, which sparked the ongoing war in Gaza, WCK partnered with a number of local groups in Israel to provide meals to those affected, including those displaced from their homes in the north and the south.

WCK worked with IsraAID to provide meals for Israel’s asylum-seeking community and the local Bedouin population who were affected by the war.

Cooking workshop Citrus & Salt partnered with World Central Kitchen to feed those in need in Israel during the 2023-2024 Israel-Hamas war. (Courtesy)

The group also teamed up with the Tel Aviv cooking workshop Citrus & Salt to provide meals for those in need. WCK helped with funding and logistics: It arranged the recipients of Citrus & Salt’s cooking, and specified the amount of protein relative to carbohydrates and vegetables in each meal.

Volunteers cooked the food and drove it to its destinations, including Sderot, Beersheba and the Golan Heights, along with 20 other restaurants and eight catering companies who partnered with WCK around Israel. WCK only covers costs for food made for civilians, so any food cooked for soldiers was handled solely by the local partners.

In late October, a post on the WCK site said that it had so far provided more than 200,000 meals in Israel and 1.4 million meals in Gaza. The organization said it was “working with a robust network of local restaurant and catering partners to support thousands of people who need food and water assistance,” including those who evacuated voluntarily in the wake of the war and were not eligible for government support, and those staying behind in evacuated areas.

On November 7, WCK updated that it had provided “540,000 hot meals in Israel. Our teams are specifically focusing on people who are not receiving other aid, like along the border with Gaza where many have been unable to evacuate and now have limited or no access to food. These groups include not only Israelis, but also Eritrean, Sudanese and Chinese communities,” it noted in a post on its website.

Teams from the charity have fanned out across the Middle East since the Hamas attack on October 7 and throughout the war that it sparked. Since then, it has boosted its efforts in Lebanon and Egypt, but its work in Gaza has been the most demanding.

A girl carries a canvas bag filled with food aid bearing the logo of non-profit non-governmental organization World Central Kitchen, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 17, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

As Israel has sought to minimize the role of UNRWA, the UN Palestinian aid agency that it has long accused of having ties to Hamas, it sought out the boosted assistance of WCK, which had already been working on the ground in Gaza for months. The IDF had promised to coordinate efforts with the agency and provide security to aid workers to ensure they weren’t attacked.

In Gaza, the group says it has to date provided more than 43 million meals to Palestinians.

The group has set up two main kitchens, in the southern city of Rafah and the central town of Deir al-Balah. It lends support to 68 community kitchens throughout the territory, serving more than 170,000 hot meals a day. The group ramped up its work during Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims traditionally fast from sunrise to sundown and then eat a lavish meal, distributing 92,000 food boxes, or about 4.7 million meals.

The group has also provided meals through airdrops and has led two shipments by sea carrying hundreds of tons of food for northern Gaza, where the food emergency is most acute.

In an interview with The Associated Press last month, Andrés credited the charity’s sea deliveries with prompting the US to declare that it would build a floating pier for aid delivered to Gaza by sea.

“I think this has been our achievement,” he said.

With WCK immediately suspending its work, tens of thousands of meals a day won’t be handed out.

Chef Jose Andres (right), founder of the World Central Kitchen, walks alongside a US senator at the Capitol in Washington, March 14, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Following the deadly strike, Cyprus’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said aid ships that arrived in Gaza this week will return to the Mediterranean island nation with some 240 tons of undelivered aid. Roughly 100 tons have already been offloaded, the spokesperson said.

Other aid organizations are still on the ground providing assistance to Palestinians, including the UN. But aid groups say supplies are not coming in quickly enough and once they have entered Gaza, delivery is hobbled by logistical problems as well as the constant fighting. Israel denies there is a food shortage in Gaza and blames the UN and other aid groups for failing to scale up deliveries inside the territory.

WCK was at the vanguard of the two sea shipments that have arrived in Gaza so far. It was not clear in what capacity the sea corridor would continue without the group, but the president of Cyprus said Tuesday that more aid could be shipped to Gaza from Cyprus “before the end of the month,” as the US completes construction of a floating pier off the Palestinian territory’s coastline.

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said the Cyprus-Gaza aid shipments “will continue as humanitarian needs are there.”

Jessica Steinberg contributed to this report.

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