Mercy Chefs, a Virginia-based disaster relief and humanitarian aid organization that serves professionally prepared, restaurant-quality meals in emergencies and natural disasters, is returning to Bay County, Florida, for the summer to feed school children and their families who rely on the meals provided by school during the year.
More than half a year after Hurricane Michael, the level of need in Panama City and Bay County is still high. With its latest deployment, Mercy Chefs hopes to be able to address some of the ongoing need.
Beginning today, Mercy Chefs will be serving dinner Tuesday – Sunday each week out of a kitchen at Oscar Patterson Elementary School, located at 1025 Redwood Ave. in Panama City. In addition to meal service, Mercy Chefs also is converting unused classrooms at Oscar Patterson into a dormitory that volunteers can use instead of incurring the cost of a hotel room during prime tourist season.
“It’s been seven months since Hurricane Michael, and the suffering that is taking place in Florida is worse than any disaster I’ve seen save for Haiti,” says Gary LeBlanc, president and founder of Mercy Chefs. “This city has endured – and is still enduring – so much. There’s been a lack of funding and resources devoted to recovery and at some point, it stops being a political issue and becomes an issue of humanity.”
Mercy Chefs was in Florida for several weeks in October for its longest-ever deployment after Hurricane Michael made landfall, serving up to 18,000 meals a day to people impacted by the storm and first responders.
The team returned several weeks later to provide a Thanksgiving meal for about 5,000 people. Mercy Chefs was in Florida again for the month of March feeding up to 5,000 meals a day to students who were in the area providing relief over their spring break in addition to local school children and their families who rely on meals provided by the school system. This summer represents the team’s fourth deployment to Panama City since the storm.
Mercy Chefs has no plans to stop serving the area anytime soon; the nonprofit feels strongly not only helping communities in the initial aftershock of a disaster, but also assisting communities as they find a new normal. A meal for Mercy Chefs focuses on comfort and quality: A plate with slow roasted turkey, mashed sweet potato casserole, fresh vegetables and a peach cobbler is not untypical fare.
Mercy Chefs has responded to other recent disasters including the Alabama tornado, Hurricane Florence, the Carr fires, the Houston floods and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
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