Puerto Rico's Earthquake Response: Food, Family, and FEMA
February 25, 2020
Following the recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico, the John Brademas Center and NYU Washington, DC hosted a discussion with the CEO of José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen Nate Mook and Mayor of Ponce, Puerto Rico Maria “Mayita” Meléndez. Ponce was the region hit hardest by the earthquakes, the strongest registering a magnitude of 6.4, leaving large-scale structural damage and psychological trauma accompanied by severe aftershocks.
The event focused on relief efforts involving FEMA, food, and the extended community. Speakers shared poignant stories of hope and hospitality. The event will also cover how a celebrity chef became an unofficial humanitarian envoy for disaster management. Public affairs advisor Gregorio J Igartúa joined the conversation, which was moderated by CNN’s Geovanny Vicente Romero.
Dr. María Eloísa (“Mayita”) Meléndez Altieri, Mayor of Ponce, Puerto Rico
Dr. María Eloísa (“Mayita”) Meléndez Altieri, was sworn in as Mayor of Ponce, Puerto Rico on January 12, 2009. She wrote a new page in the history of Puerto Rico when she became the first mayor of Ponce elected by the people. During her first term as, Dr. Meléndez became the first woman to preside over the organization for the Integral Development of the South (DISUR). Both in 2012 and in 2016 Meléndez was reelected as mayor in her second and third terms, respectively.
Before becoming Mayor, Dr. Meléndez began her professional career as a dental surgeon in Ponce for 31 years (1977-2008), standing out both in the clinical area and in education. The commitment to public service and especially to the city of Ponce, impelled Dr. Meléndez to get involved in various boards and committees in which, on a voluntary basis, she offered her advice, practice and knowledge.
During her administration as Mayor, she has led recovery efforts following major natural disasters and overseen five signature infrastructure projects under the "Ponce Avanza" initiative worth $177 million.
Dr. Meléndez graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus with a Bachelor of Science in 1973. In 1977, she received the degree of Doctor of Dental Medicine of the School of Dentistry of the Medical Sciences Campus of the University Puerto Rico. Reach her on Twitter @Mayitaalcaldesa.
Nate Mook, Chief Executive Officer, World Central Kitchen
A seasoned entrepreneur and gifted storyteller, Nate Mook knows what it takes to turn words into action and ideas into impact. Thanks to his extensive experience in the fields of technology, filmmaking and activism, he understands the power of a well-crafted story to bring people together and change the world.
Nate serves as CEO of World Central Kitchen, where he works hand-in-hand with the non-profit’s founder, world renowned activist and humanitarian Chef José Andrés. Nate oversees all WCK operations, leading the organization’s emergency and disaster relief efforts, as well its long-term impact projects. He formally joined WCK after helping to create and lead the #ChefsForPuertoRico effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria that served nearly 4 million meals to people in need.
Prior to taking on the role of CEO at World Central Kitchen, Nate produced the HBO Documentary film "Baltimore Rising.” His career as a filmmaker has led him to produce, direct, shoot and edit projects in Somalia, Haiti, Colombia, Panama, Uganda, Kenya, Iraq, and Liberia. He has worked with a myriad of prestigious clients including UN Women, USAID, UNDP and the World Bank, along with smaller NGOs and startups.
In 2013, Nate was tapped by former president Bill Clinton to travel throughout Africa and document the president’s 8-country humanitarian tour. In 2015 he conceived and directed the documentary “Undiscovered Haiti” with chef José Andrés, a project that was co-produced with National Geographic and PBS.
Nate spent his early career as an entrepreneur in the technology and software industries. Before the age of 27, he had founded/co-founded three tech-based companies, including online publisher BetaNews, and digital B2B service provider Localist.com. Nate has also worked extensively with TED, curating and organizing events and conferences in locations including Doha and Washington, DC. He was named a “Change Hero” by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for his work with TEDx around elevating voices in underserved communities. Reach him on Twitter @NateMook
Gregorio J Igartúa, Attorney and Certified Public Accountant, Igartua & Fuste Law Offices
Gregorio J Igartúa is an attorney and Certified Public Accountant. He holds a master's degree (LL.M.) in international and comparative law from the George Washington University Law School in Washington D.C. and has served as a consultant and advisor to the Senate of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico House of Representatives and the Municipality of Ponce (one of the largest and most important municipalities of Puerto Rico) on various financial, tax, economic development and other policy issues. He has contributed to multiple judicial processes claiming the democratic rights of the American citizens of Puerto Rico, and recently appeared before the Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States demanding recognition of these fundamental rights. Reach him on Twitter @GJIgartua.
Geovanny Vicente Romero, Columnist, CNN
Geovanny Vicente Romero is a columnist for CNN based in Washington, DC. He is a political strategist, international consultant and lecturer. He has published many articles on development, human rights, governance, democracy, elections, the environment, as well as the role of women in a society. He is the founder of the Dominican Republic Center of Public Policy, Leadership and Development (CPDL-RD). Geovanny has a masters degree from The George Washington University in political communications and strategic governance. Reach him on Twitter @GeovannyVicentR.