PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WRIC) — A Virginia non-profit is prepared to help thousands of people in Florida impacted by Hurricane Ian by serving delicious, homemade Cajun food.
Gary LeBlanc, the founder and CEO of the Portsmouth-based non-profit Mercy Chefs, said he doesn’t think twice about packing up to help a community in need, especially communities that will likely be hit hard in Florida this week.
“We’re expecting this landfall to be one of the biggest that Florida has seen in years,” he said.
Florida officials requested the non-profit to be the primary feeder at the state’s emergency operations center as Ian makes landfall. LeBlanc said they expect to serve about 20,000 meals a day, all of it made with a Cajun and southern influence.
“They’ll be seeing a lot of pot pies and we’ll do a lot of jambalaya. We’ll do some just beautiful fajita chicken dishes,” he said.
Mercy Chef’s teams deployed to Tallahassee Tuesday night. LeBlanc said they left with supply trucks and a mobile kitchen from the group’s storehouse in Alabama. LeBlanc said they opened the storehouse to respond more quickly to natural disasters on the east coast. The facility is stocked with food, water and equipment.
Mercy Chefs has been responding to devastated communities for 16 years. They have about eight to 15 core staff members and have nearly 4,000 volunteers around the country.
LeBlanc said the non-profit was birthed after his hometown, New Orleans, was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He volunteered with some organizations and was disappointed with the professional acumen, sanitation and food safety he saw.
“People just weren’t putting the love that a Cajun boy thinks should belong in food, and so after Katrina I got angry about the food that I saw served and said ‘there’s a better way’,” he said.
Mercy Chefs is sending out more teams with supply trucks and another mobile kitchen to Florida’s Gulf Coast Wednesday night. LeBlanc said they will start serving meals on Friday, and they are prepared to serve for days and weeks after the storm hits.
“We will stay as long as we’re needed,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Mercy Chefs helped out in Florida. Last year, the group responded to the condo collapse in Surfside.