Chef José Andrés Uses Gift from Jeff Bezos to Launch $1B Climate Fund

“This is a fight so hungry people can eat,” declares World Central Kitchen founder.

Chef José Andrés speaks at a podium

Paul Morigi / Getty Images

What would you do with a $100-million financial gift from Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos? For chef José Andrés, a man used to wasting no time in helping others impacted by disaster, the answer came quickly: Feed more people. 

Earlier this month, Andrés announced the launch of a new $1 billion Climate Disaster Fund to help his organization World Central Kitchen expand its global operations. Since 2010, the charity has been at the forefront of feeding people impacted by natural disasters or refugee crises. 

“This is a fight so hungry people can eat,” said Andrés in a statement. “We cannot wait for more promises from world leaders. We need the fierce urgency of now.”

The fund will start with an initial seeding of $50 million and focus on three main areas: feeding people in the immediate aftermath of disasters, expanding its Food Producer Network (which invests in local farmers and chefs to empower communities to be more self-sustainable and resilient in the face of future disasters), and expanding policy efforts with local and state governments to improve access to nutritious food. 

In a video tweet announcing the fund, Andrés explained how the climate crisis is spawning larger natural disasters and fueling demand for more on-the-ground assistance to help feed those impacted. 

“Our climate is telling us what we should already know: food is now a national security issue,” he said. “It’s affecting politics all over the world. It’s forcing families to become refugees across borders. It’s a humanitarian priority that we need to solve now at the same time as stopping the climate crisis from getting worse.”

An Unexpected Windfall

Back in July, after successfully taking a trip to space in a Blue Origin rocket, billionaire Jeff Bezos announced that he was choosing both José Andrés and Dream Corps founder/CNN commentator Van Jones to receive his first-ever Courage and Civility Award. The honor, which seeks to recognize “leaders who aim high, pursue solutions with courage, and always do so with civility,” comes with the unprecedented philanthropic purse of $100 million. 

According to Bezos, the $100 million can either be used by the recipients to support their own charities or spread among other organizations of their choosing. 

“We need unifiers and not vilifiers,” Bezos said. “People who argue hard and act hard for what they truly believe, but always with civility and never ad hominem attacks. And unfortunately we live in a world where this is too often not the case.”

The donation surprised Andrés and he immediately vowed to use the unexpected gift to expand World Central Kitchen’s reach out around the world and help others in need.  

“To the people of the world making food a bright light in dark times, thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he tweeted. “No single donation or gesture by itself can end hunger. But today we write a new chapter—no action too small, no idea too bold, no problem too big for us to solve together.”

World Central Kitchen and the Next Decade

According to Andrés, the Climate Disaster Fund will commit $1 billion to help address the global food crisis over the next decade. While that may seem like a lot of money for any organization to manage, World Central Kitchen is used to efficiently spending large budgets. In 2020 alone, due to natural disasters and COVID-related relief programs, the organization spent over $250 million to feed impacted communities.

“It’s the culmination of all of our efforts being on the front line of these disasters, watching them get bigger and bigger,” World Central Kitchen CEO Nate Mook told Bloomberg about the fund. “The majority of the disasters are the result of  extreme weather. We have cooked somewhere in the world every day since September 25, 2017, when we went to Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria.”

One of the first programs to come out of the fund in 2022 will be the WCK Climate Disaster Corps, an intensive training course that will guide culinary students, cooks, veterans, and others on best practices for disaster response in their own communities. The organization will also continue developing its Community Relief Centers, a joint partnership with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Archewell Foundation that provides kitchens and community hubs in regions prone to recurring natural disasters. 

Despite the initial $50 million infusion, Andrés adds that the fund will still need public support to succeed in making its intended impact. In the meantime, he’ll be doing what he’s always done—working hard to help hand out food and provide comfort to those impacted by disaster. 

“This is a fight so hungry people can eat,” he added. “It’s also a fight to respond to the climate crisis all around us. We hope you’ll join us.”