FEMA Botched A Contract To Feed Puerto Rico. But Regular Americans Stepped Up.

One chef in particular made a giant contribution.

When Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017 as a Category 4 storm, it heavily damaged the island that was still reeling from Hurricane Irma, which struck about two weeks prior. Vox reports Maria is responsible for billions of dollars in damages and likely over1,000 deaths, but it's what came after (or rather, what didn't) that has angered millions and caused concern in Washington.

Though there were and still are several issues with how the American government responded to the devastation of Hurricane Maria — clean drinking water, electricity, and necessary supplies remain hard to come by in certain areas — perhaps no failing has received quite the spotlight as reports that in some places on the island, Americans went hungry.

As reported by The New York Times, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was tasked with sending 30 million meals to Puerto Ricans in need after Maria hit, but because the agency mishandled contracting the job out, only 50,000 — less than 0.2 percent — were delivered.

FEMA insists no one missed a meal as a result of the failed agreement since the agency was able to rely on other suppliers that provided "ample" food and water for distribution. According to an email from the agency to A Plus, despite the hiccup, the agency did provide 61 million meals via other contractors and charities.

Other Americans (and corporations) also stepped in to help. One such American is celebrity chef José Andrés who arrived in Puerto Rico days after Maria made landfall and established a network that includes kitchens, food supply chains and delivery services for those in need. 

Both Andrés, who is Spanish-American, and his organization, World Central Kitchen, remained on the island through Thanksgiving (where they prepared special holiday meals for displaced residents) and to date the organization has served upwards of 2.3 million meals to those in need thanks to Operation #ChefsForPuertoRico — a team of chefs — which is still hard at work. Per an October article in The New York Times, no other single agency, including the Red Cross and Salvation Army, had fed more people freshly cooked food since the storm hit as Andrés's group had at the time.

Andrés' efforts were funded by charities and donors in the mainland, as well as two contracts with FEMA, the first of which paid for 140,000 meals. That's likely why, in response to the Times article, Andrés once again appealed to FEMA to work with him directly and provide food to those still in need in an effective way, despite the fact that the two have clashed in the past. Though Andrés noted FEMA employs people with a "great level of expertise," he also pointed out that smaller NGOs such as World Central Kitchen or Mercy Corps, which has provided food and other resources to Puerto Rico, can help make the massive agency more efficient.

"Let's get ready," he concluded.

For information on World Central Kitchen, please click here.

Correction: this article previously suggested that millions of Puerto Ricans had been displaced as a result of Hurricane Maria. The Washington Post reported that hundreds of thousands are leaving the island.

The article has also been updated to include more context from FEMA, including information regarding Andrés contracts with the agency.

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