When unprecedented amounts of heavy rain and snow melt caused flash floods that devastated communities throughout Nebraska and the upper Midwest, World Central Kitchen acted swiftly to help, mobilizing teams to help feed whole neighborhoods impacted by the flooding.
(Founded by humanitarian chef and Bon Appétit chef-partner José Andrés, the nonprofit World Central Kitchen was the recipient of Bon Appétit’s annual gift on behalf of our clients in 2018.)
And as in the past with Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and other natural disasters, when José called Bon Appétit CEO Fedele Bauccio and asked for help, he found no shortage of volunteers.
The destruction shocked everyone and, for some, literally hit home. Cornell College Sous Chef Shane Olinger, who traveled out from Mount Vernon, IA, with General Manager James Richards, has family ties to the Missouri and Platte River flood plain. As they drove, he saw many familiar areas submerged by the flooding.
Shane and James were soon joined in Fremont, NE, by Cerner Culinary Director Alan Shook and Washington University in St. Louis Campus Executive Chef Patrick McElroy. The group faced flood conditions just getting to and from St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Fremont, where staff opened their kitchen to volunteers and emergency responders.
The culinary team cooked from dawn until dusk, prepping food and cooking meals for approximately 1,500 people each day. They turned donated ingredients into filling, nutritious meals like fiesta chicken with broccoli and rice, shepherd’s pie, and sweet potato bisque. Volunteers worked in constant communication with other local churches to distribute food to remote high-need areas. community members. And José joined the volunteers in kitchen prep, jumping on the line and lending a helping hand wherever needed.
Shane also went out to hand-deliver sack lunches to the neighboring communities. “It’s amazing to see how a hot meal can change a person’s day,” he said. “We can get caught up in the day-to-day of what we do, and it was extremely humbling to see so many people come together and help heal through food.”
On the original Bon Appétit team’s last day at the church, one of the families prepared a Mexican feast to thank the volunteers for their hard work. They found it hard to leave, but a new duo was there to relieve them: Best Buy Sous Chef Mike Carlson and DePauw University Executive Sous Chef Nathan Smith, who stayed until World Central’s operations wrapped up.
“We wouldn’t have been able to join relief efforts without the support from Bon Appétit and our own teams back home,” James recalled. “Everyone stepped up and ultimately made this all possible.”
“You and all the other chefs stepped up and I am so proud of your support. I know I can count on you,” wrote Fedele to the chefs afterward. “You are all rock stars.”