‘This is a very tough day’: Nonprofit prepares teams for Hurricane Ida relief efforts

Published: Aug. 29, 2021 at 6:54 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 29, 2021 at 11:38 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - On Sunday, Hurricane Ida hit the Louisiana coast as a powerful Category 4 hurricane, bringing catastrophic conditions to neighborhoods impacted by Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago.

As the hurricane travels through Louisiana, volunteers from Virginia are gearing up to help with the disaster relief effort.

On Saturday, the Virginia Red Cross sent volunteers down to the Baton Rouge, Louisiana to help with sheltering less than 24 hours before Hurricane Ida made landfall.

Mercy Chefs, a nonprofit located in Portsmouth, Virginia, is also lending a helping hand in these relief efforts.

Chef Gary LeBlanc, the Founder of Mercy Chefs, says one team from Virginia is on the Gulf Coast waiting to respond and another team is traveling down to Louisiana from Oklahoma this evening.

LeBlanc says this mission hits close to home for him and his hometown, New Orleans.

“This is a very tough day for anybody in Louisiana,” he said. “I lost family members in Katrina. I have children that lost homes. The businesses that I came to know how to do hospitality were all destroyed.”

LeBlanc’s work to help people during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 inspired him to start his nonprofit, Mercy Chefs. The organization’s goal is to prepare and distribute meals to victims, volunteers and first responders impacted by natural disasters.

Over the last 15 years, LeBlanc says their organization has provided 17 million meals to those in need. As Hurricane Ida barrels through Louisiana, LeBlanc says they’re ready to provide more meals to people who need help.

“We’ll have two Mercy Chef teams full operational mobile kitchens that will approach New Orleans or Baton Rouge from the East and the West,” he said. “We’re making contacts with locations, churches and emergency operators already to find out where the greatest need is.”

LeBlanc says two refrigerated box trucks and tractor-trailers will be heading down to Louisiana with groceries to prepare these meals.

“We know supply lines will be difficult, so we’ll have to arrive fully self-sustainable,” said LeBlanc. “It’s a little village we’ll set up in a parking lot and we’ll plan on doing somewhere around 15,000 plus meals a day.”

A call LeBlanc says he’s ready to answer to help a place close to his heart.

“I still have family there. I still have friends there. I still see the scars on the city from Katrina,” he said. “There’s another storm that’s going to once again challenge the heart and soul of the people of Louisiana, but I fully know they’re up to the task.”

If you would like to help Mercy Chefs by volunteering or donating towards their relief efforts, you can click here.

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