Celebrity chef Jose Andres’ nonprofit kitchen typically responds to natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes, but the organization is now responding to an urgent need in the nation’s capital.
World Central Kitchen has opened an emergency kitchen in Washington, D.C., to support federal employees either working without pay or furloughed by the longest U.S. government shutdown in history. Executive Director Nate Mook likened it to a “man-made disaster.”
“We have hundreds of thousands of fellow Americans that are struggling right now because of the situation,” Mook said Wednesday on CNBC’s “Power Lunch.” “They need a hot plate of food to kind of help make ends meet.”
The “Chefs for Feds” pop-up kitchen will be open every day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and has served more than 2,000 meals as of Wednesday afternoon, he said.
The partial government shutdown is now in its 26th day and has caused about 800,000 workers in nine federal departments to miss a paycheck.
Additionally, 4 million federal contractors are sidelined due to the funding lapse.
Half of those federal staffers were required to work through the shutdown without pay but were promised back pay once the government reopens.
Mook said his organization followed the lead of small businesses that originally stepped up to support the workers. Now that the standoff has entered its fourth week, World Central Kitchen saw it as a call to action.
“As we’ve been seeing what’s going on … we felt compelled as an organization whose mission it is to make sure that everybody has a hot plate of food,” he said.
Last year, World Central Kitchen organized 20,000 volunteers to serve about 3 million meals over three months to survivors of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
The shutdown went into effect after President Donald Trump could not make a deal with congressional Democrats to fund a wall he proposed to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have been invited to the kitchen on Pennsylvania Avenue to spark conversations, Mook said.
“We hope that perhaps there will be some dialogue that comes from this,” he said.
“If we can foster some dialogue and help … push folks to get the government open again that will be fantastic, but in the meantime we’re going to be here as long as we can be,” he added.
World Central Kitchen strives to purchase food sourced locally with funds it receives from private organizations and other donations, Mook said.