This renowned team of food first responders, dubbed World Central Kitchen, hit the ground with fast paced productivity mere days after the first explosions erupted from La Soufriere on April 9.
Through partnership with local restaurants and since the SVGCC’s Hospitality and Maritime Institute at the Diamond Industrial Estate became their SVG base of operations that productivity has shot to over 6, 000 meals being delivered to 95 locations spread across St. Vincent. Some of these are delivered to persons still living in the orange zone, private and public shelters and even to households who are hosting displaced compatriots.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told reporters gathered at Diamond on Sunday that part of the challenge getting the WCK Relief Team operational at their most optimal capacity, involved being able to fast track their multiple container loads of gear and food stuffs through local customs.
“They were doing 4, 000 [meals] without those 4 containers and because they didn’t start here they had 9 kitchens which they employed. They needed to ramp up and to ramp up day by day to 10, 000.
“[The containers] came in the afternoon … Customs told them the earliest they could possibly get [the containers] out is the night after – might not have been that, might have had a further delay.
“I called the Comptroller of Customers and asked that they give priority to this. By the morning the next day the containers were on their way here. Now when you hear me ask people that at this stage that it is better if they send money to their families and not packages – I’m not telling you not to send packages, I understand that.
“But at this stage if you have the Port cluttered up with thousands of packages – because at Christmas time you have 20, 000 packages you know; barrels and boxes and the like, duty free. We had a $25 charge for handling we’ve removed that charge [since La Soufriere erupted]. So we are not opposed to the packages coming in.”
Dr. Gonsalves further noted “it is only at this time,” when all the first responders infrastructure is in the set up phase that some space is desperately needed at Port Kingstown.
As for as WCK’s Director of Emergency Response, Sam Bloch, is concerned the team is yet to meet a challenge in the face of the ongoing eruptions that they are yet to meet and surpass. The most noteworthy of speedbumps to date he described was being able to deliver the 6, 000 plus daily meals to over 95 locations spread so far apart.
“You know in a lot of these situations if we are doing 10, 000 meals it might be in 30 shelters in other countries; whereas here we feeding over 90 locations and every day I get to find more and more. That is the biggest logistical challenge: getting it out.
“You know? A family of 5 in this home, a family of 2 in this home and getting that many daily distributions out but it’s happening and it’s happening well because of the people of Saint Vincent.
“So many people are coming and delivering food to their neighbors and volunteering. We need volunteers in order to produce more food. Come look at our website (https://wck.volunteerhub.com/lp/ChefsForSVG/#_) and you would see where to sign up.
“There are other distribution challenges but they are being overcome because of everybody that we’re working with.”
Bloch also explained that the range of their current productive capacity is virtually limitless.
“The need decides what it is that we do, how many numbers we do. So we have the capacity to increase, we’re doing over 6, 000 now, we have the capacity to increase [up to] many more thousands if needed but it’s – whatever the need is: we’ll be there.”
WCK, established in 2010 and currently engaged in food relief initiatives across the United States of America and other countries worldwide, is only one of the locally active food first responders. The local Red Cross, Seventh Day Adventist Church, Salvation Army and even government departments have all pitched in along with individual citizens and other NGO’s to help feed the multitudes of displaced Vincentians.
In the coming days the WCK Relief Team will continue to streamline its local operations and work towards its overarching objective: helping to build “a good future start[ing] with a humble plate of food.”