On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. island of Puerto Rico. Recovery has been slow and limited in the months since, and thousands of customers remain without power. Through the worst of Maria’s aftermath, however, volunteers swarmed the island to provide what comforts they could to the island’s residents. World Central Kitchen (WCK), a non-profit that uses “the power of food to empower communities and strengthen economies”, quickly set up its kitchens to provide meals for those affected by the hurricane. According to the organization’s website, 19,000 volunteers provided 3.4 million meals across the island. Although much of Puerto Rico is returned to a certain sense of normalcy, WCK has continued to invest its efforts in the local economy, awarding grants to local food truck owners, chefs, and agriculture.

WCK was founded by Michelin-starred chef José Andrés, a native Puerto Rican. After the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Andrés sought to use food as a means of community recovery. Since then, the organization’s mission has diversified, and the team now focuses on the power of food in improving the areas of health, education, jobs, and social enterprise. Since 2010, WCK has assisted communities in the U.S., Brazil, Cambodia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Zambia. WCK’s model is not uncommon, with organizations such as Chefs for Humanity and Operation BBQ Relief organizing with a similar purpose. But the magnitude of WCK’s successes in Puerto Rico have even left formal, government-funded aid agencies taking notes on how to better execute and deliver aid to those affected by natural disasters.

As lava activity erupts in the background, cars drive down Hwy 132, Friday, May 18, 2018, near Pahoa, HI. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Most recently, the organization’s networks of volunteers have expanded to Hawaii. For weeks now, residents of Hawaii’s Big Island have been experiencing disruptions due to lava flows from the Kilauea volcano. Small eruptions and lava flows have forced the evacuation of thousands of the island’s residents, and the safety concerns seem to be multiplying. Lava flows continue to accelerate across the island, swallowing up houses and complicating travel.

Although only one major injury has been reported thus far, officials have also expressed concern over sulphur dioxide in the air, as well as “laze”, or lava haze, which contains hydrochloric acid and glass particles. As lava continues to flow into the ocean, laze will increase, threatening to cause skin and respiratory damage.

In light of these developing hazards, World Central Kitchen has put out a call similar to Puerto Rico, using the hashtag #ChefsForHawaii to organize via social media. As of Saturday, May 19th, WCK’s Hawaii operation has officially commenced, serving hundreds of meals to evacuees from areas surrounding the volcano. Once again, Chef José Andrés and World Central Kitchen are acting as a powerful example of the importance of civil society in community resilience.