When I read of the seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen that were killed in Gaza by Israeli rockets last week, I was shocked. It wasn’t that I had personally met any of the seven victims, but rather because I have felt a connection to World Central Kitchen since I volunteered in Poland and Ukraine in the early months of the current war.

I traveled to Poland in May 2022, where I joined three friends who wanted to volunteer in any way we could. We traveled to Warsaw, Medyka and Przemyśl in Poland. We also made our way to Shehyni in Ukraine, just across the border from Przemyśl, as part of the army of volunteers who came to help as Ukrainian refugees made their way to safety.

Opinion: Miracle workers at the border of Ukraine and Poland

World Central Kitchen was one of the only large organizations on the ground that was also accepting volunteer help. We met Michele from Colorado who wanted to do something meaningful, so she spent hours on the phone contacting large international nongovernmental organizations to sign up as a volunteer. They were not taking volunteers, they told her, unless she had a highly specialized, very specific set of skills. Frustrated but undeterred, she kept looking until she found World Central Kitchen. She spent a week serving meals on the border between Poland and Ukraine.

Everywhere we went, we encountered World Central Kitchen. They were at the train stations, on the border and in the various locations acting as shelters, from abandoned grocery stores to large indoor arenas. WCK was there with sandwiches in the train stations, coming across the border, and offered three hot meals plus endless tea and coffee in the shelters. So far in Ukraine, WCK is at 260 million meals and counting.

Ukraine is only one place World Central Kitchen has worked or is currently working.

Started by chef José Andrés after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the goal of World Central Kitchen is to be “first to the frontlines, providing fresh meals in response to humanitarian, climate and community crises.” The nonprofit teams up with local food providers, governments and restaurateurs to quickly scale up and provide meals to people in need. They have gone to help after hurricanes in Houston and Puerto Rico, after wildfires in the western United States, Hawaii, Australia and Chile, and after earthquakes hit Afghanistan and Japan.

The last week of March, after 175 days in Gaza, an update posted on the WCK website said both the devastation and need there was “the most dire we’ve ever seen or experienced in our 15-year history.” They have faced a number of difficulties in getting food aid into the country, but they have been persistent.

In March, World Central Kitchen sent an initial ship from Cyprus to northern Gaza bearing about 200 tons of food — the first aid ship that Israel had permitted to reach Gaza’s shores in about 18 years, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. There was no accessible port in northern Gaza, but staff there constructed a jetty using rubble from bombed out buildings. A second delivery involving three ships and a barge carrying “hundreds of tons of food and heavy machinery to expedite the offloading process” left Cyprus last week, with enough food to prepare more than 1 million meals, World Central Kitchen said in a release late last week.

Last week’s killings of the group’s workers happened in a “deconflicted zone” as two armored cars and one additional vehicle, all clearly branded with World Central Kitchen logos, left a warehouse where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian aid. A statement from WCK said that their movements had been coordinated with the Israeli military.

WCK CEO Erin Gore said that the seven workers killed had a love for feeding people and embodied a determination to show that “humanity rises above all.”

“Their smiles, laughter, and voices are forever embedded in our memories,” she said, adding that “we have countless memories of them giving their best selves to the world. We are reeling from our loss. The world’s loss.”

Since the fatal drone attacks on the convoy, the Israeli military admitted they made mistakes. They dismissed two officers responsible for the hits and have reprimanded three others. “It’s a tragedy,” the military’s spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, told reporters late last week. “It’s a serious event that we are responsible for and it shouldn’t have happened and we will make sure that it won’t happen again.”

l know that as I travel to do humanitarian aid, even as a volunteer, my risk of being killed is low, but never zero. I’ve told my husband multiple times that if I die on one of those trips, please know I died doing something I love. Aid Worker Security, an organization that tracks the number of aid workers killed, wounded or kidnapped while serving, has data going back to 1997. That year, 39 aid workers were killed. In 2022, 115 aid workers were killed. In the almost six months since Hamas attacked Israel, more than 200 aid workers have been killed in Gaza alone.

For now, World Central Kitchen has suspended its efforts in Gaza. In the meantime, starvation and famine are looming in the south and “quite possibly” present in the north, according the U.S. State Department. What an absolute tragedy.