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José Andrés pays tribute to seven World Central Kitchen workers killed in Gaza

José Andrés pays tribute to seven World Central Kitchen workers killed in Gaza

The stone pulpit at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., was not the place chef José Andrés expected it to be when he created the food charity World Central Kitchen Nearly 15 years ago. But he stood there on Thursday, paying tribute to seven of the organization's workers who were killed in the Gaza Strip while trying to carry out one mission: bringing food to a region of 2.2 million people facing a growing humanitarian crisis.

“They risked everything to feed people they didn’t know and would never meet,” Mr. Andres said. “They were the best human beings.”

The seven workers were killed on April 1 after they helped unload a ship loaded with food aid in northern Gaza and was heading to the southern city of Rafah. Their convoy of marked vehicles was bombed by Israeli drones. Israeli military officials said the attack was a grave mistake that should not have happened. They cited a series of failures, including communications blackouts and violations of the Army's rules of engagement.

Mr Andres, who was unusually subdued and sometimes tearful, said he was sorry, sad and angry about the deaths. “I know there are also many questions about why there is World Central Kitchen in Gaza,” he said. “We ask ourselves the same questions day and night.”

But he said the workers took the risk because they believed that showing up and feeding people in their darkest hours would let them know they were not alone.

“Food is a universal human right,” said Mr. Andres. “Feeding each other, cooking and eating together is what makes us human. The dishes we cook and deliver are not just ingredients or calories. A plate of food is a plate of hope.”

Attendance at the service, which included prayers and readings by Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders, and an interlude by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, was by invitation – although the service was It was broadcast live on World Central Kitchen. The organization and Mr. Andrés' restaurant group are based in Washington.

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Funerals for the victims were indeed held, but this was the only memorial held in the United States. Among the 560 people in attendance were Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris; And representatives of three of the victims’ families; And dozens of World Central Kitchen volunteers and contractors who have worked together in disasters and conflicts around the world. They filled only a small portion of the cathedral, which was the site of four presidential funerals and memorials to victims of the September 11 attacks.

While the deaths at World Central Kitchen sparked global outrage, so did more than 220 other aid workers. killing in Gaza.

But the seven were the first casualties the organization had suffered since Mr. Andrés dreamed up the group while doing culinary relief work in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Its concept was simple: Chefs living in disaster-hit areas could feed suffering people more quickly and more often with more delicious and convenient foods than traditional relief organizations.

Mr. Andrés has leveraged his connections, charisma and clever use of social media to mobilize an army of volunteer chefs and build World Central Kitchen into a $550 million global enterprise.

Last week, hundreds of mourners, including Mr. Andrys and a representative of the Polish president's office, attended a Roman Catholic mass in Przemysl, Poland, the birthplace of slain worker Damian Sobol.

Mr. Andres also attended a mass last week in St. George, Quebec, for Jacob Flickinger, 33, an outdoors enthusiast and former member of the Canadian Armed Forces. Mr. Flickinger began working for the organization in October, helping feed residents after a hurricane near Acapulco, Mexico. Then he headed to Gaza.

“We discussed the risks,” his father, John Flickinger, said. Interview with the Associated Press Shortly after his son was killed. “He basically said, 'Dad, people are starving over there and I think I can help.' And i appreciate that.

On Thursday, Mr. Andres broke down in tears as he mourned Lalzaumi Frankcom, 43, an Australian everyone called Zumi. He said she was like his sister – tough, funny, and the oldest member of the team in Gaza.

She first volunteered in 2018 when a volcano erupted in Guatemala, and has gone on to help victims of floods in Bangladesh, earthquakes in Morocco, poverty in Venezuela, and wildfires in California. She was recently appointed Senior Director of World Central Kitchen's Asia operations and was based in Bangkok.

Saif Al-Din Abu Taha, a 25-year-old Palestinian, was a member of the relief team, translating and leading for the organization since the beginning of the year. He returned from the United Arab Emirates to help in his family's flour mill. He had contacts in Israel, which helped the organization coordinate permissions.

The remaining three workers – John Chapman, 57, James Kirby, 47And Jim Henderson, 33 – They were part of a British-based security company called Solace Global. They have been appointed as part of the organization's security team. All three served in various arms of the British Army.

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When Russia invaded Ukraine in October 2022, the world's central cuisine went to war for the first time. When Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, the group rushed to establish relief kitchens in Israel, and then expanded its mission to help Palestinians in Gaza, where Hundreds of thousands They are on the verge of starvation.

The seven workers spent a long day helping to unload a barge loaded with more than 100 tons of food that World Central Kitchen and Open Arms, a Spanish non-profit, had shipped to the Gaza coast from Cyprus, and were heading to Rafah to sleep. At 10 p.m. Gaza time, the first of three cars carrying workers was bombed by drones. Israel allowed the passage of white cars bearing the prominent World Central Kitchen logos.

Within minutes, the drones hit the second car and then the third.

“I know we all have many unanswered questions about what happened and why it happened,” Mr. Andres said in his eulogy. “We continue to demand an independent investigation into the actions of the Israeli army against our team.”

The World Central Kitchen immediately stopped its work in Gaza after the bombing. Linda Roth, its communications officer, said the organization is expected to announce its next steps there soon.

Mr Andres indicated he was unlikely to leave. He read a letter from Mr. Abu Taha’s brother, in which he wrote: “I hope that World Central Kitchen will continue its humanitarian work around the world, carrying the spirit of the fallen and the resilience of the Palestinian people.”

Zach Montague contributed reporting.