October 1, 2022

I remain in awe of the people and volunteer organizations who feed people on the scene of natural disasters. Here's an organization I didn't know about before, Mercy Chefs. (You can donate here.)

"More than 1.2 million people are without power in Florida, many residents of the county where I am and where Ian made landfall still have no running water. Finding your next meal under the circumstances is difficult," Ali Velshi said.

"But luckily, there are several volunteer groups who have come here to help feed those in need. Mercy Chefs was founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Now the organization is in Fort Myers where it serves thousands of hot meals and comfort to victims, to volunteers, to first responders. They plan on distributing up to 30,000 hot meals a day.

"With us now, Gary LeBlanc, founder and CEO of Mercy Chefs. He's a native of New Orleans. He started Mercy Chefs after seeing his hometown devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Since then, his organization has served over 22 millions in 27 states and 11 countries. His team was in Puerto Rico serving meals to victims of Hurricane Fiona.

"What I'm talking to people who have lost everything, their homes there, clothes, their money, their transportation, their vehicle, you can't think about your next decision until you've eaten. Food is what you are searching for, you will not move forward," Velshi said.

"Well, we think amazing things happen over a shared meal, which is why we put so much love into it. We see a lot of people who have not even had a moment to contemplate their circumstances. That hot meal is love, it is compassion, it is hope in the form of a meal. We have a lot of tears and a lot of breakdowns over our meals," LeBlanc said.

"We have to be fully self-contained when we get onsite, we want to make sure that we are not a burden to the community in any way. We bring our own water, we bring our own food, we bring our own equipment, everything we need is self-contained. I have three trucks of food here on site, we have three more that are on the way. I have two of my big mobile kitchens, I have a third on the way. When it is all said and done, it is this huge operation. Imagine a caterer or hotel that was able to serve 30,000 meals a day and put wheels under that and move it into a zone with absolutely no support. That is what Mercy Chefs does on a daily basis."

LeBlanc said he volunteered after Katrina.

"I saw the meals that were being sent out, God bless anybody did that, but I thought there was a better way. I thought you could do handcrafted, chef-prepared meals in volume under the same circumstances and do it with love. That is what we put into these place that we serve, our heart is in there, our mission is in there," he said.

"If you are going to serve somebody that has just lost everything, you should do it to the very best of your ability. That is our challenge and that is what we work so hard to do."

Mercy Chefs' website has links to sign up as a volunteer, and to make donations. There's nothing more basic than feeding people.

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