Within 24 hours of Hurricane Ian making landfall in Florida, Mercy Chefs was in Fort Myers serving meals – and hope.
Two weeks later, the Virginia-based disaster relief and humanitarian aid organization that serves chef-prepared meals in national emergencies and natural disasters, has served more than 200,000 meals to the Fort Myers community and beyond.
While responding to Hurricane Ian, Mercy Chefs reached another significant milestone: the largest one-day total of meals served, with 23,246 meals going out in a single day.
“Of all of our deployments over the past 16 years, the response to Hurricane Ian has been one of our largest,” said Gary LeBlanc, founder and CEO of Mercy Chefs. “While our initial response is winding down, our hope is that a long-term recovery option will become available so that we can continue to serve Florida residents who experienced the devastating impacts of Hurricane Ian.”
Working with Florida State Emergency Management, Mercy Chefs has had more than 20 team members on the ground in Fort Myers and is utilizing three of its mobile kitchens to prepare warm meals like smoked pork loin, fresh fruit and mashed potatoes with a warm roll from a base at Next Level Church East (11081 Gateway Blvd. in Fort Myers) along with other distribution sites.
Financial and in-kind gifts from both individual donors and corporate partners, including Omaha Steaks, Smithfield Foods, Sterno Products and Holly Poultry, have allowed Mercy Chefs to continue its work over the past two weeks.
“We can’t respond to disasters without the support of our network,” LeBlanc said. “We’re so thankful for all of those who give to allow us to serve.”
Mercy Chefs has served more than 20 million meals since its founding in 2006 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when LeBlanc went to New Orleans to volunteer and realized disaster relief could be done better.
Mercy Chefs is a 501c3 founded in 2006 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The organization exists to provide professionally prepared, restaurant-quality meals to victims, volunteers and first responders in natural disasters and national emergencies and partners with existing ministries with food service in underserved communities around the country. Since its founding, Mercy Chefs has served over 20 million meals. In 2020, Mercy Chefs founder Gary LeBlanc was recognized by Southern Living Magazine as a “Hometown Hero,” and Mercy Chefs was named the 2020 Small Business of the Year in the nonprofit category by Inside Business and the Hampton Roads Chamber. In 2015, it received both the Virginia Governor’s Volunteerism Award and the Hampton Roads Volunteer Achievement Award for its service. For more information, visit MercyChefs.com.