WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Jose Andres has fed hurricane and earthquake victims and some of the millions of Americans left hungry by coronavirus shutdowns. Now he’s feeding thousands of security personnel protecting Wednesday’s presidential inauguration.
“We know how to mobilize a lot of food very quickly,” said Nate Mook, the CEO of World Central Kitchen (WCK), an international aid group founded by Andres, a Spanish chef and restaurateur.
Inside Jaleo, a popular Andres-owned tapas eatery deep in the security zone in downtown Washington, restaurant workers slapped together sandwiches on Monday morning. A knot of Pennsylvania National Guardsmen mulled selections of roast beef and turkey and Swiss cheese sandwiches, or stir fry, all provided for free.
More than 25,000 National Guard troops, police and other security personnel are deployed across Washington for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, an unprecedented operation prompted by the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
The visitors who would normally flock to Washington for an inauguration are few and far between this time, due to pandemic and security restrictions.
That has left the National Guard army reserve troops, stationed at checkpoints inside miles of chain-link fences and concrete barriers, with plenty of hotel accommodation but few food choices. Many fast food joints and coffee shops have closed.
Andres, who made headlines when he flew to Puerto Rico in 2017 to organize millions of fresh meals for victims of Hurricane Maria, and again when he fed out-of-work federal employees during a government shutdown, has been personally delivering meals to security personnel.
While rioters were tearing apart the Capitol on Jan. 6, he and Mook started making hot meals for the police and National Guard troops who rushed in.
“It’s in our DNA to understand that this was an emergency,” said Andres in a telephone interview. “Nobody was there to give them coffee or soup or a hot meal.”
As the number of troops that would be deployed on Wednesday climbed, Andres mobilized a small army of volunteers and WCK staff. They re-opened Jaleo’s kitchen and parked a truck that can produce several thousand meals an hour outside, next to a U.S. Secret Service checkpoint.
Funded by private donations, WCK has churned out thousands of meals, sometimes delivering them accompanied by police escorts.
“We’ve been able to tap into local suppliers… We had a local bakery prepare 5,000 cookies,” said Mook, as workers bustled by with boxes of food and bottled water.
WCK, which is based in Washington, forged some of those relationships two years ago, when government workers were left without paychecks for two weeks, he said.
“This is our backyard. This is Jose’s backyard,” Mook said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Heather Timmons and Rosalba O’Brien)