World Central Kitchen resumes relief efforts, dedicates operation to slain Catholic worker  — By: Catholic News Agency

Palestinians carry empty pots during a demonstration held by the displaced Palestinians gathered in a protest carrying empty pots and pans asking for more relief aid and fuel to reach Gaza strip in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, on Thursday, April 25, 2024. / Credit: SAEED JARAS/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 29, 2024 / 17:20 pm (CNA).

World Central Kitchen (WCK) has resumed humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza and is opening a new hub to be named “Damian’s Kitchen,” after Damian Soból, a 35-year-old Catholic aid worker who was recently killed while serving in the war-torn strip. 

While acknowledging the continued dangerous conditions in Gaza, Erin Gore, WCK CEO, said: “We are restarting our operation with the same energy, dignity, and focus on feeding as many people as possible.” 

WCK’s efforts will be carried out by Palestinian aid workers going forward, according to Gore’s statement, released on April 28. 

“WCK has built a strong team of Palestinians to carry the torch forward,” she said. “Our model has always been to work hand in hand with the community: Puerto Ricans feeding Puerto Ricans; Moroccans feeding Moroccans; Ukrainians feeding Ukrainians; and now, Palestinians feeding Palestinians.” 

This comes four weeks after seven WCK workers, including Soból, were killed by rocket fire while traveling on a Gaza highway at night after making an aid delivery. 

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) admitted responsibility for the strike but said it was a “mistake that followed a misidentification at night during a war in very complex conditions.”

The IDF agreed to allow an independent investigation into the killings and have reportedly changed their operating procedures, and reprimanded and relieved several soldiers of their duties for their involvement. 

This incident led WCK and a few other aid groups to temporarily suspend their efforts for the sake of their workers’ safety. WCK said it distributed over 43 million meals in Gaza before pausing operations in early April, accounting for 62% of all international nongovernmental aid.

Gore said that while still mourning the loss of the seven workers, WCK is aware of the continued need in Gaza and is ready to resume their efforts. WCK aid deliveries resumed on Monday. 

“Ultimately, we decided we must keep feeding, continuing our mission of showing up to provide food to people during the toughest of times,” she said. 

According to a WCK statement sent to CNA, the group has 276 trucks with nearly 8 million meals ready to enter Gaza from the south as well as additional aid trucks in Jordan. The group is also investigating additional delivery routes from the Mediterranean Sea.

Damian’s Kitchen, named after Soból, will be WCK’s third “high production” kitchen in Gaza. It will be in Al Mawasi, a town in southern Gaza close to Rafah. Including the new location, WCK operates 69 community kitchens throughout the strip.

Soból was from Przemyśl, Poland. Before going to Gaza, he helped build kitchens and deliver aid amid catastrophes in Poland, Greece, Turkey, and Morocco. 

According to a tribute to him posted on WCK’s website, Soból was among the first workers helping Ukrainian refugees in the earliest days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

The WCK tribute said that he was “wise beyond his years” and “put everyone at ease with his kindness, patience, and laughter. He was pure joy, with the best smile.” 

In Gaza, the tribute said Soból “worked tirelessly to make the impossible possible through innovation.”

Gore said that in building Damian’s Kitchen WCK workers are remembering his favorite saying: “No problems, only solutions.”

Though only the bones of the future kitchen’s structure have been laid, WCK workers have already erected a large poster with Soból’s image with the words “Damian Kitchen, the hero Damian will remain in our hearts forever.” 

Despite several relief groups halting their efforts, Catholic Relief Services has continued distributing aid throughout April, even increasing its work. 

Jason Knapp, Holy Land representative for the U.S.-based Catholic group, told CNA shortly after the aid workers were killed that CRS had set up warehouses, guesthouses, and offices in Rafah and Deir al Balah and was “in the process of setting up additional distribution points throughout Rafah, Khan Younis, and Middle Area.”

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