PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Team members from Portsmouth-based, non-profit Mercy Chefs are on their way to Florida to help feed those impacted by Hurricane Ian.
They’re staging in Tallahassee to be ready to serve as soon as Hurricane Ian moves through.
Mercy Chefs Founders Gary and Ann LeBlanc say they’re preparing for this to be one of their biggest, if not the biggest, Mercy Chefs response yet.
“We’re anticipating this to be one of our largest, if not our largest response in our history, so that calculates out between 20,000 and 25,000 meals daily,” said Founder, Gary LeBlanc.
The team just opened a storehouse in Tanner, Alabama, near Huntsville, that houses food, water and equipment to help them better prepare for deploying quickly to disasters in the Gulf and Southeast.
“Having the storehouse here in Tanner is a complete game changer for us; we are able to get equipment, supplies, even staff so much closer to the point of need,” said LeBlanc. “From Tanner, we can get to the east coast, we can get to the gulf coast, we can get all the way back to Texas and Oklahoma and then up into the midwestern part of the country so it’s a very strategic location for us.”
They are planning to have four or five remote distribution sites in the Tampa area where they’ll send food out from their central hub. LeBlanc says they’re expecting to serve between 20,000 and 25,000 meals daily.
“We want to make sure it’s the very best meal that we can serve in any given circumstance,” said LeBlanc. “We believe something amazing happens when you share a meal with someone and we get to do that with victims, we get to do that with other volunteer organizations and we get to do that with search and rescue as well.”
Mercy Chefs also responded to Florida last summer after the Surfside Condominium Collapsed. They say they made a lot of lasting connections during the event, and that’s why they’ve been chosen to be the primary feeder at the State Emergency Operations Center.
“We made many lasting friendships with those men and women who just did unspeakable work and we fed them in a way they’ve never been fed before,” said LeBlanc. “The love of mercy chefs came through on those plates of food that we gave to them.”
The team is planning to have four or five remote distribution sites where they’ll send food out from their central hub, which will likely be based in Punta Gorda or Venice. They also have thousands more volunteers ready to respond.
“We have volunteers coming from Ohio, Texas, Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama, so these volunteers that work with us over and over are also on their way in,” said LeBlanc.
[They’re] making sure the love from Hampton Roads is felt during the worst of times.
“We believe something amazing happens when you share a meal with someone and we get to do that with victims, we get to do that with other volunteer organizations and we get to do that with search and rescue as well,” said LeBlanc.
Mercy Chefs still has volunteers in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona moved through and they also still have volunteers serving in Ukraine.
If you’d like more information on how you can help with their mission, and their expensive grocery bills, visit their website.