Chef José Andrés pledges help to federal employees: "We can't just leave them alone"

By Camilo Montoya-Galvez

/ CBS News

Washington — When news outlets began reporting that President Trump and Congressional leaders had brokered a deal to reopen the government for three weeks, renowned chef and philanthropist José Andrés asked the group of federal employees braving the cold outside his World Central Kitchen location in Washington if they were checking the news on their cell phones.

The workers cheered when Andrés came to greet them. "Yes! Thank you so much chef José," many in the crowd shouted. Andrés assured them the kitchen would remain open in the coming days while they wait to get paid.

For weeks, thousands of federal employees have been coming to this kitchen operated by Andrés' nonprofit near the National Mall to pick up a free hot meal. As part of its #ChefsForFeds initiative, World Central Kitchen has opened 11 pop-up kitchens in Washington and partnered with local restaurants and food trucks in more than 17 states and Puerto Rico to serve meals to the approximately 800,000 federal workers who have been furloughed or are working without pay because of the shutdown.

On Friday, the second missed payday for workers in nine federal departments, the president announced he would support a measure to fund the government for three weeks. The measure, which has been approved by Congress but still needs Mr. Trump's signature as of Friday night, will break a 35-day impasse in budget negotiations between the White House and Congressional leaders over Mr. Trump's demand for funding to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Upon hearing the news of the president's announcement, some workers waiting in line expressed some relief. For many, the economic and emotional toll of the longest shutdown in U.S. history — including two missed paychecks — had become extremely demoralizing.

"Of course this is great news. It's way past due — but great news," Sonnia, a furloughed worker who handles procurement for a federal agency, told CBS News.

Sonnia, who chose not to disclose her surname or the government agency that employs her, said the prolonged shutdown resembled a "hostage situation" for federal employees. She called on the president and congressional leaders to reopen the government and then continue debating the best approach to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

Andrés, a frequent critic of the president, welcomed an end to the gridlock on Capitol Hill and said it could pave the way for a "compromise" between Democrats and Republicans. But he added that the three-week solution is still a temporary reprieve for the federal workforce.

"We need to understand that such a short deal still is going to be putting a lot of uncertainty on the federal workers and the entire nation," Andrés told CBS News. "But that's better than nothing."

Andrés pledged to keep his main kitchen in Washington open until at least Friday and said he had asked the restaurants participating in his initiative to continue their services to federal employees next week.

"We've been getting ready like this was going to last forever. Because again, when people are hungry — especially mothers with children — we can't just leave them alone," he said.

Since he founded World Central Kitchen in 2010, Andrés has spearheaded efforts to provide meals to communities hit by natural disasters or plagued by poverty across the world, including in Brazil, Cambodia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, Zambia and the U.S.

Invoking a quote from the novel "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, Andrés said his nonprofit will continue to assist needy communities in the U.S. and in countries around the globe.

"Wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, we will be there," he said, changing the "I'll" in the novel's quote to "we will."

First published on January 25, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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