World Central Kitchen honors those who went above and beyond to provide aid

World Central Kitchen honors those who went above and beyond to provide aid

Soon after learning of his friend’s death, Josh Phelps saw the gruesome images of an Israeli attack that World Central Kitchen said killed her and six others delivering aid in Gaza.

“It was shocking,” said Phelps, a former WCK colleague of Australian aid worker Lalzawmi Frankcom.

He had just texted Frankcom — known as Zomi — the day before, when photos of the pair delivering food to a Native American reservation in Pine Ridge, S.D., popped up on his phone.

He sent them to her, and she hearted them. Hours later, she was dead.

Frankcom, 43, was among seven WCK workers whom the nonprofit said were killed in an Israeli strike in Gaza on Monday. The attack on the organization founded by celebrity chef José Andrés drew international rebuke. It has pushed WCK and at least one other group to pause aid operations amid warnings of imminent famine in besieged Gaza and mounting pressure on Israeli over the large Palestinian civilian death toll.

Others killed include a U.S.-Canadian dual national, at least one Palestinian, and nationals from Poland and the United Kingdom, WCK said. It said the team was traveling in the Palestinian enclave in vehicles that included two armored cars branded with the World Central Kitchen logo, and that it had coordinated its movement with the Israeli military.

In an apparent reference to the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israeli forces “unintentionally hit innocent people” and that Israel would fully investigate the “tragic incident.”

Phelps, who left WCK in 2021, remembered Frankcom as a person who could make lifelong friends in the direst situation. “You knew when Zomi was in the room,” he said. “She loved to laugh, loved to have a good time.”

The two met in 2018 after a volcano eruption in Guatemala, as Frankcom was traveling Central America and taking classes online after leaving a job at an Australian bank. She began helping to provide food aid with WCK. Her work took her around the world, from Paradise, Calif., to Egypt, Turkey and beyond. “She just bonded with every community she worked in,” Phelps said.

The last mission they did together was in Haiti in 2021. “She was riding around delivering food on the back of motorcycles,” Phelps recalled. “Her sense of responsibility to the people we serve and to go the extra mile was really special, and also to keep a great attitude.”

That attitude took her to Gaza. When Phelps messaged on WhatsApp to ask how she was feeling, she wrote back: “I’m getting used to the drones but the booms still make my tummy go funny.”

Her death would shake people she had met around the world, Phelps said. “She had a zest for life, a heart for service,” he added. “People will remember her.”

Australian officials condemned the strike and said they contacted Israeli authorities, calling for an investigation. “We expect full accountability for these deaths,” the Australian Foreign Ministry said.

The director of al-Najjar hospital in Gaza, Marwan al-Hams, said the facility received the bodies of the seven workers — six with “Western nationalities” and one Palestinian, whom he identified as Seif Issam Abu Taha.

Yousef Sharef said Abu Taha, 26, was a cousin working with the WCK team in Gaza, whose death was a “big loss” to the family and a shock. “He was a friendly, lovely person, and he used to always do good things and to support people who need help,” he said.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said the British government was “urgently working” to verify reports that its nationals were killed and would provide support to their families. He described the attack as “deeply distressing,” and called on Israel to “provide a full, transparent explanation of what happened.”

Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that a Polish national was killed, extending its “deepest condolences to the family of the volunteer who was providing aid to the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.” The ministry said it objected to the “disregard for international humanitarian law.”

The mayor of the Polish city of Przemyśl identified the victim as Damian Soból, a 35-year-old aid volunteer whom he said was killed in the Israeli strike in Gaza.

“There are no words to describe the feelings of people who knew this amazing young man right now,” wrote Mayor Wojciech Bakun.

Videos released by the World Central Kitchen show Polish aid worker Damian Soból, who was killed in a strike on April 1, working in Gaza and Cairo. (Video: World Central Kitchen)

Aparna Branz, a former WCK volunteer, said she got to know Soból while volunteering between Poland and Ukraine in 2022, describing him as “always smiling, kind, patient and ready to help anyone anytime.”

“He was one of the bright lights in those horrible months,” Branz said. She also remembered him as a devoted son, who was often speaking on the phone with his mother.

The two met again working in the aftermath of last year’s earthquake in Morocco. She recalled that Soból was busy getting ready to leave for Rafah at the time, but still, “typical to Damian, he helped me navigate the logistics of transportation, of where to go and where to stay,” she said.

During their work together in the early days of the war in Ukraine, “we didn’t talk about our reason for being there,” she said. “We just wanted to help.”

Frances Vinall and Heba Mahfouz contributed to this report.

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