PORTSMOUTH, VA (WWBT) - A Virginia nonprofit is helping victims in Florida whose lives were turned upside down by Hurricane Michael.
Mercy Chefs, a 12-year-old company based out of Portsmouth, is feeding people who lost everything in Florida’s panhandle.
Mercy Chefs was founded by Gary LeBlanc, a 35-year veteran of the hotel and restaurant business, after Hurricane Katrina in 2006.
“New Orleans was my hometown and I returned to cook after the storm with other organizations and got back and started thinking about what I had seen,” LeBlanc said. “I really didn’t like the way people were being fed. I thought there is a better way to feed them with a high quality, hand crafted, chef prepared meal, and that was the beginning of Mercy Chefs.”
Since then, Mercy Chefs has responded to natural disasters, helping to feed victims.
- CLICK HERE to see how you can get involved
“It took us nine years to serve our first million meals,” LeBlanc said. “It’s only taken three years to serve our second million.”
Since Saturday, Oct. 13, more people have been added to that list as Mercy Chefs works to feed the hungry in and around Panama City. Mercy Chefs has two mobile kitchens set up and one being constructed.
Chefs from Virginia and around the country cook food and deliver it to five areas considered the “hardest hit.”
“We’re doing hand-crafted food - things like Salisbury steaks, grilled chicken - that are served with a nice side ... fresh vegetables, a roll and dessert,” LeBlanc said.
For some of the people the nonprofit is encountering, it’s their first meal in days.
“There was a lady yesterday that had been three days without a meal,” LeBlanc said. “She had been trapped in her home since the storm and they were just able to cut her out yesterday.”
The volunteers work from early in the morning until late at night and, according to LeBlanc, they will continue working until the need is diminished. They currently also have a kitchen in West Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, that was used after Hurricane Florence, but will be packing up soon to move down to Florida to help with disaster relief there.
Feeding the community in areas struck by natural disaster typically costs the nonprofit more than $20,000 and is all donation based.