PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – After two weeks in Turkey, the founders of Portsmouth-based Mercy Chefs just returned from the devastated Turkey-Syria border, where last month’s massive earthquakes killed more than 50,000 people.

More than 204,000 buildings either collapsed or were severely damaged, leaving hundreds-of-thousands homeless.

Mercy Chefs founders Gary and Ann LeBlanc said they’ve seen a lot of devastation over the course of the organization’s 17-year history, but this was off the scale compared to the other places they’ve been.

They say the countries have a long road ahead of them and they plan to keep providing hope in the form of a meal for the long haul.

“I mean, these towns are going to have to be scraped clean and started from scratch,” said Mercy Chefs co-founder, Gary LeBlanc. “It’s a herculean task.”

Mercy Chefs founders Gary and Ann LeBlanc said they’ve never seen anything like this before.

“Everyone has lost friends or family,” Gary LeBlanc said. “The country is in mourning and at the same time they are trying to rebuild and sift through rubble.”

Ann LeBlanc said one woman even told her about the terrifying moments when the earthquake hit and demolished her home.

“Their house began to crumble, lights went out and they ran out of their house barefoot standing in the street in their pajamas,” AnnLeBlanc said.

They say there are 10 large cities along the fault line, and all of them have damage, leaving many living in tents.

The organization is working with local churches to staff three mobile kitchens.

They’re also putting together grocery boxes for families who may want to cook on their own.

“They have burners and they put the pot on the burner outside of their tent,” said Ann. “It brings a dignity, a sense of normalcy that mom is still cooking.”

Gary and Ann LeBlanc said they’ve helped show some of the local organizations how they can cook on a larger scale to reach more people.

And despite the devastation and the language barrier, they say it’s easy to see how thankful people are to have a hot meal.

“There was a lady who came through the line to get food and I handed her simple things like rice and soup and lentils and that type of thing,” Ann LeBlanc said, “and she thanked me profusely and then the next day she came and in the ruin all around her she brought me a bouquet of daffodils. There was another woman who just burst into tears. I mean she was weeping because we were there.”

Said Gary LeBlanc: “It’s one person to another just to remind them that they’ve not been forgotten and there’s hope and that can all happen over a simple plate of food,” said Gary.

Some of the Mercy Chefs team members were even in the country when the second big earthquake hit.

They said they plan to continue supplying groceries, helping with equipment and assisting with relief efforts. If you’d like to help, visit their website.