'Americans helping Americans': National Guard members protecting Capitol fed thousands of meals by celebrity chef José Andrés

Chris Bumbaca and Grace Hauck, USA TODAY
·4 min read

WASHINGTON – Between armored vehicles and scores of law enforcement officers in downtown Washington on Inauguration Day, José Andrés was working.

After all, this was an emergency.

"Well I mean, World Central Kitchen, we are an emergency organization," said the famous chef and restauranteur, whose organization provides free meals during times of crises. "I don’t think anybody would disagree that this is a bit of an emergency."

After pro-Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the district and surrounding areas instituted a 6 p.m. curfew, and the city effectively shut down.

"A simple, traditional thing like feeding people disappeared," Andrés said. "On a very difficult day, they weren’t going to receive anything. So we activated World Central Kitchen that day to precisely cover those needs and since then we’ve done thousands of meals every day, as you see."

Chef Jose Andres, founder of World Central Kitchen, talks and bumps elbows with a U.S. Capitol Police officer while handing out food to those protecting the Nation's Capital ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in Washington.
Chef Jose Andres, founder of World Central Kitchen, talks and bumps elbows with a U.S. Capitol Police officer while handing out food to those protecting the Nation's Capital ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in Washington.

The organization began distributing meals to National Guard members, Capitol Hill police officers and others on Jan. 15. The organization said it has prepared and served 15,000 hot meals since then.

Andrés said his staff has worked as late as 3 a.m. to deliver hot soups. He said certain patrols or units had hardly any access to food for 12 hours.

"It’s the least we can do," he said. "It’s a nice gesture for our law enforcement officers, especially the National Guard."

In a video posted to the organization's Twitter page Tuesday night, Chef Tim Kilcoyne, director of Chef Operation, said the group was handing out soup, sandwiches and cookies.

"It’s a cold night, so something hot goes a long way," Kilcoyne said. "Hopefully everybody can go home soon, and, you know – but we’ll be here next few nights if we need to, providing food for 'em to keep them going."

Wednesday afternoon, minutes after President Joe Biden was inaugurated, police officers from Kentucky had just wrapped up a meal under a tent off the sidewalk. The fact they had to be in the city at all disappointed Andrés, who is hoping for better days under the new administration.

"Well I think President Biden said it best," he said. "That, we the people, we need to put differences aside and embrace democracy. And we cannot take democracy for granted. I think everybody that saw what happened in the Capitol would agree that’s not the American way."

It’s not what troops who sacrificed their lives fought for, he added.

"Usually, the people who want to destroy have an easier way than the people who want to build," he said. "Building is difficult. Destroying is easy."

World Central Kitchen staff hand out meals to National Guard members in Washington, D.C.
World Central Kitchen staff hand out meals to National Guard members in Washington, D.C.

Even during the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 400,000 Americans, Andrés has managed to be there for those in need, traveling to 20 states in the wake of wildfires or hurricanes. He provided further disaster relief following the explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, and also participated in efforts in Venezuela, Colombia and Guatemala, among other countries.

"In the hardest moments, I don’t see Republicans or Democrats. I don’t see left or right. You just see Americans helping Americans," Andrés said. "So I know it’s there. We need to make sure we have voices that don’t spread lies and try to bring the worst demons out of us. We need to find people that bring the best angels out of all of us."

José Andrés was working in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day.
José Andrés was working in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day.

In the coming days, the aiding law enforcement agencies will return to their locales and the National Guard will clear out. But the issues wrought by the pandemic will not.

Andrés will be ready to assist.

"This is like COVID-19 and an emergency," he said. "It’s kind of funny that by Friday we’re going to be going back to happiness, and 'happiness' is still far away from reality."

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter at @BOOMbaca.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chef José Andrés continues feeding National Guard on Inauguration Day