Staff from the World Central Kitchen arrived in Alaska on September 17, just as the remnants of Typhoon Merbok were hitting Western Alaska. It was the non-profit organization’s first time in the state. Founded in 2010 by chef José Andrés after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, World Central Kitchen’s primary mission is to provide hot meals for victims of disasters.
Since their 2010 founding, they have aided victims of natural disasters and conflict all over the world. When Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Andrés traveled to Poland to help refugees. He posted several video updates from Poland on Twitter.
Lucy Shpak was one of four World Central Kitchen staff that came to Alaska. Shpak told the Landmine that she had worked ten years as a nurse before joining World Central Kitchen four years ago. Since then she has been to Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, South Korea, and Columbia. This was her first time in Alaska.
Shpak explained that World Central Kitchen tries to respond to crises as rapidly as possible, since the need for assistance is immediate. “We act with an urgency of now,” Shpak told the Landmine.
Shpak quickly realized that responding to a disaster in Alaska would pose unique challenges. There are no roads to the parts of Alaska affected by the storm. Shpak and her team contracted with Trygg Air, Kenai Aviation, Dena’ina Air, and Katmai Air to get thousands of pounds of food and water a day to several communities in Western Alaska. World Central Kitchen was able to provide services in Nome, Hooper Bay, Golovin, Unalakleet, and Shaktoolik.
Sphak said they ask community leaders what they most need in a disaster situation. Their primary goal is to provide hot, high-quality meals, Sphak explained, but they have to adapt to every situation. In Western Alaska, they focused on supplying fresh produce, sandwiches, and water, which they purchased at grocery stores in Anchorage.
World Central Kitchen relies on grants and donations. While the organization has a smaller number of major donors, they also count on many small donations. Shpak said when they were at a Walmart in Anchorage buying food and water, a manager personally donated $100 when she found out what they were doing.
The storm devastated dozens of Western Alaska communities. Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) issued a disaster declaration on September 18 and requested a federal disaster declaration, which President Joe Biden recently approved.