PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WRIC) — The war between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas has prompted an organization in Virginia to mobilize to help those who have been impacted.
Portsmouth-based nonprofit Mercy Chefs has teams from California, Florida and Virginia which are either on their way or already in Israel as of Wednesday, ready to get food to those in need.
“We had requests from people in Israel,” founder Gary LeBlanc said. “They knew that, with the military being called up and there being a shortage of people to work in different service fields, Mercy Chefs’ history of working overseas under very difficult circumstances and producing high-quality high-volume meals was going to be something very needed.”
LeBlanc said traveling to the country has been difficult for some of the volunteers so far, with several flights being cancelled and sometimes over six hours needed to cross the border from Jordan into Israel. But he said it’s something they’re prepared to do.
“Our team has worked in Ukraine, they’ve worked in Turkey after the earthquakes. We have teams that are working in Myanmar and other places around the globe,” LeBlanc said. “We would certainly rather not go into areas of conflict, but if that’s where the greatest need is, that’s where Mercy Chefs is going to be.”
LeBlanc said his team will work out of Jerusalem, with plans to serve the entire country from one central site. They’ve already distributed groceries to several villages along the Gaza border on Sunday.
“We’ll continue our grocery and supply deliveries facilitating on site deliveries to the people that have been stuck in their basements or bomb shelters,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said he plans for Mercy Chefs to be in Israel as long as they are needed.
“We have over 1,000 people that want to volunteer with us in Israel, in varying places,” said LeBlanc. “There’ll be drivers, there’ll be dishwashers, we [will] have chefs, we will have Kosher and Halal chefs that will be working with us so we can do appropriate food in the appropriate moment for anybody that might need a hot meal.”
8News also reached out to Red Cross representatives to see if any volunteers from Virginia are headed out to Israel as well. A spokesperson said there have been no requests for their volunteers to head out as of Wednesday.