HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Help from Hampton Roads can be found all over the hurricane zone in the Big Bend area of Florida, following Hurricane Idalia.
Both Mercy Chefs and Operation Blessing are in that area, doing what they can to give help in an area that will be far from normal for quite a while, doing so in the hardest-hit areas of Florida.
Mercy Chefs is feeding more than 7,000 people per day, while Operation Blessing is in the heart of the flooding damage, helping give hope to those who are hurting, from delivering meals to getting water and cleaning supplies to those impacted.
“It’s like a thief in the night,” said Operation Blessing’s Steffany Horton. “You don’t see a lot of damage. However, once you step foot in their residence, you realize the amount of damage that has happened.”
Operation Blessing has set up their home base at a church in Homosassa, Florida right now.
“We need boots on the ground as soon as we can possibly get there,” Horton said. “We need to bring in relief, we need to bring them hope and that’s what we roll in with.”
Mercy Chefs is based further north in Suwannee County. They had to work with crews with chainsaws to make it in because of all the downed trees and powerlines on Interstate 10.
They’re the primary feeder for the entire state, getting into the hardest hit communities to deliver meals.
Mercy Chefs has a lot of contacts in Florida following their response to Hurricane Ian last summer.
“Our contacts with the state emergency operations folks just enabled us to move right into the heart of the damage and seamlessly begin to serve the community and to serve those search and rescue teams,” said Mercy Chefs founder Gary LeBlanc. “Those men and women just do an incredible job and we need to take care of them the best way that we can.”
LeBlanc said even though this area isn’t as populated as Fort Myers, there’s still a big need.
“Even in these rural communities, the need is even greater sometimes,” LeBlanc said, “because they don’t have the resources or availability to get what they need to continue to survive.”
Both organizations say seeing the looks on people’s faces when they hand them a warm meal or a bottle of water is what drives them to continue to serve.
“When we give them their items,” Horton said, “they go from despair to pure joy and a hopeful outlook that someone is at least here that can assist them and that does care about them.”
LeBlanc said Mercy Chefs is usually one of the first in and the last to leave, and they want victims to know they stand behind them thanks to generous Mercy Chefs supporters.
“They feel isolated, they feel alone and to be able to go and help them, tell them that we are being sent by generous people all over the country,” LeBlanc said, “reminds them that as Americans we stand together in their time of need.”
If you’d like to help either organization visit their websites below: