Restaurant Heroism Heads To Ukraine's Borders

Ukrainian refugees are hungry, and many in the restaurant community are rushing to help, contributing to the efforts of World Central Kitchen as it tries to feed the overwhelming exodus. 

The United Nations now estimates that 1.5 million Ukrainians have fled, most passing through border towns in Poland, Latvia, Moldova and Romania. That can entail a wait of up to 72 hours.

WCK, a charity founded by chef José Andrés in response to Haiti's devastating earthquake back in 2010, has gotten increasingly skillful at combining restaurant smarts with humanitarian crises, including the pandemic.

Andrés and other U.S. chefs made it to the region within a day of Russia's invasion, serving dishes like ramen, soup and hot sandwiches from pop-ups.

The charity uses a variety of models to help feed people, including offering hot prepared meals. Working in partnership with dozens of restaurants, its volunteers are also cooking up dishes like urek -- a traditional Polish soup made with white sausage, smoked meat, and sour fermented rye flour -- round the clock for foot-weary refugees in Medyka.



And in Hrebenne, Royal Catering set up tents to provide 1,000 plates of chicken with potatoes, along with cabbage, carrot and beet salad for lunch.

It's also busy handing out portable snacks. Bananas are a favorite because they come in their own sanitary container. Royal Catering supplies ingredients, too. For instance, it's giving flour to a Catholic Ukrainian charity, used to make more bread. 

In the U.S., support for the effort keeps growing, using the #ChefsForUkraine hashtag. Bakers are selling bright blue-and-yellow cookies to help the cause, along with special challah recipes. Butchers are on board, as are many bars. And dozens of independent restaurants are setting aside certain days to benefit the effort, or pledging a portion of sales.

Some QSR chains, too, are getting involved: Pollo Tropical, a fast chicken chain based in Miami, says it is pledging $1 for every family meal it sells to WCK.

And while WCK is working with local restaurants, it continues to look for donations from those in the U.S. and worldwide. Last summer, Andrés received $100 million for the Jeff Bezos' Courage and Civility Award, which is now helping to feed Ukrainians.

"We are anticipating this becoming one of our largest and most complex emergency responses to date," WCK says in a recent post. "WCK is currently serving tens of thousands of meals per day — as this crisis develops and rapidly evolves, that number could quickly grow to into hundreds of thousands, so our teams are working hard to be ready for whatever support is necessary."

Despite the outpouring of relief for Ukraine, some brands -- including McDonald's -- aren't seen as supportive, and are facing calls for a boycott.

Reuters reports that New York state's head of pension funds has written letters to the fast-food giant, along with such companies as PepsiCo, Mondelez and Estee Lauder, asking them to pause their Russian operations.

Doing so "would address various investment risks associated with the Russian market and play an important role in condemning Russia's role in fundamentally undermining the international order that is vital to a strong and healthy global economy," the letter said.

CNBC reports that McDonald's has the most exposure of all U.S.- based restaurant chains.

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