Hope in Florida: Neighbors Feeding Neighbors

World Central Kitchen is working with Florida chefs, volunteers and has already delivered more than 100,000 meals after Hurricane Ian. This week, they’re opening another kitchen in Fort Myers

Photo: Metropolitan Ministries

World Central Kitchen partnered with Metropolitan Ministries, a Tampa Bay nonprofit organization that shared its commercial kitchen to prepare meals.

Just a week after the Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit World Central Kitchen deployed to help feed communities in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the Turks & Caicos, Bermuda, and Nova Scotia in the wake of Hurricane Fiona, the relief team set their sights on Florida in advance of Hurricane Ian.

The storm wasn’t predicted to hit until mid-week, but the team arrived in Tampa on Sunday with four semi-trucks filled with supplies and immediately started preparing for the work ahead. “We spent the first couple of days here in Tampa bringing in as much food as possible, as much water as we could, anticipating that the storm would intensify and there would be a large-scale need after the hurricane passed,” says Fiona Donovan, director of relief operations.

Founded in 2010 by chef José Andrés, World Central Kitchen serves fresh meals in response to crises around the world. More than a decade later, World Central Kitchen has served more than 200 million meals worldwide, and they’ve built up a network of volunteers, including chefs, drivers, and pilots, who can cook and deliver hot meals under some of the toughest circumstances.

Photo: World Central Kitchen

Volunteers have prepared and served more than 100,000 meals since Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida on Wednesday.

For the Hurricane Ian response, WCK partnered with Metropolitan Ministries, a Tampa Bay nonprofit organization that provides services to at-risk and homeless families and shared its commercial kitchen to prepare meals. Volunteers collected the first batch of 5,000 meals—including pasta Bolognese, BBQ meatballs served over saffron garden rice, and ham and cheese sandwiches for quick bites—early Thursday morning and set out to deliver them to the hardest-hit areas of Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Sarasota, and the surrounding communities impacted by Ian’s arrival as a Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday. “We share a common mission to first alleviate immediate suffering by providing nutritious meals,” says Tim Marks, president and CEO of Metropolitan Ministries. “Because we’ve seen firsthand that hope starts with a meal, especially in situations like this.”

To meet its goal of making tens of thousands of meals daily to deliver to Florida communities in need, WCK is working with nearly forty area restaurants and food trucks, including Shiso Crispy in St. Petersburg and Monster Burgers out of Miami, and expects to be working with more in the coming days and weeks. Through these partnerships, WCK and its network of volunteers delivered 100,000 meals in the three days after Ian hit.

Photo: World Central Kitchen

The relief team gives a helping hand.

Hab Hamde, the executive chef at Boulon, a French bistro in Tampa, has been cooking alongside Chef Andres and other WCK volunteers. “I am grateful for the World Central Kitchen team stepping up to give Florida residents and chefs like myself and our crew at Boulon and Forbici the opportunity to provide some help to those who desperately need it,” Hamde says. “I was only able to contribute seventeen hours in the last two days, which is incomparable to the World Central Kitchen team, which has given at least seventeen hours a day since the hurricane arrived.”

Ronicca Whaley, who owns and runs a fleet of three Shiso Crispy food trucks out of St. Petersburg, started working with WCK three days into the relief efforts. She and her team are preparing 1,000 portions a day of her best-selling dish Bang Bang Chicken served with sticky rice and green beans. Whaley started Shiso Crispy at the start of COVID as a way to reach out and build communities. “There are so many people without, and it’s so easy to help when we’re mobile and we’re able to do whatever we want with the truck,” she says. “So many of our followers are helping on the truck and donating food and time. Everyone’s excited and generous, and everyone wants to be a part.”

Photo: Metropolitan Ministries

Florida chefs, food truck operators, bartenders, and drivers donated their time to help cook and deliver meals.

Kamran Mir, a Tampa bartender who was familiar with World Central Kitchen’s work prior to its arrival in Tampa, volunteered on Thursday. During his shift in the kitchen, he cooked, dished pasta Bolognese into serving trays for transport, prepped vegetables for the following day’s meals, and enjoyed a family meal with the WCK and Metropolitan Ministries teams.

“The notion that there are actual chefs in the kitchen cooking from-scratch meals to give to these people, I love that as a concept,” Mir says, adding that the storm was widely predicted to hit Tampa much harder than it did, and instead devastated communities farther down the coast. “I feel like we, in our area and in Tampa in general, just got so lucky. It’s literally the least I could do, to give up a day of my time to help.”

The flooding of the Myakka River south of Sarasota has closed I-75, which impacts meal delivery to southwest Florida from Tampa. “We do have planes and helicopters as part of our logistics operation, so today [Saturday] we’ve been flying our food down rather than driving,” Donovan says.

Photo: Metropolitan Ministries

The team arrived in Tampa before the storm hit with four semi-trucks filled with supplies and immediately started preparing for the work ahead.

She adds that they’re working with the state and individual counties, and everyone recognizes that the scale of need is enormous. WCK plans to open a second kitchen in Fort Myers on Monday to expand its reach. “The outpouring of support from within the Florida community…it’s been really beautiful to see how many people want to give their time and their cars, anything they have to help us,” Donovan says.

Those interested in volunteering with WCK at the Tampa or Fort Myers kitchens can visit and choose the Florida option. Monetary donations are another way to help. Find more ways to help here.