This year marks my 5-year anniversary of volunteering to deploy to disaster areas with a group called Mercy Chefs. I first discovered this organization following the Henryville, IN tornadoes in 2012 when my wife spotted one of the kitchen trailers on the interstate. The organization is quick to respond when needed to a variety of situations, including tornadoes, floods and wildfires. In my time with Mercy Chefs, I have deployed to two tornadoes, last year’s f looding in Baton Rouge, and two hurricanes, including Hurricane Harvey, where I assisted with feeding upwards of 10,000 meals a day out of a portable commercial kitchen! For many people, that kind of task is daunting—bordering on impossible—but it can be done … and it needed to be done.
Mercy Chefs is a volunteer organization focused on disaster relief led by professional chefs and managers. To feed the numbers we needed to in Houston, it was going to take a village of chefs, cooks, dishwashers, supplies handlers and amazing volunteers. Every day for 23 days, both the professionals and the novices turned out to help feed those who didn’t have anything. Feeding body and soul is the motto for Mercy Chefs. We believe that hope will blossom over a hot meal prepared with love, and that is what we try to do.
On my first day in Houston, we received our first full order for raw ingredients, disposables and supplies. Our order filled an entire 53-foot refrigerated semi and those ingredients would last us for about two days. Up to this disaster, Mercy Chefs had been supplying themselves through the “big box stores,” but to feed the numbers we were being asked to take care of we needed a national supplier. The biggest problem was that the roads were flooded and many of the drivers, warehouse people and order takers were affected by the flooding as well. The total on that delivery was over $26,000 and the invoice ran over eight pages.
After I helped unload supplies, I was asked if I was willing to drive to Rockport, TX. I tend to go wherever I am needed, so I packed up my stuff and started driving south.
Rockport was the epicenter of the hurricane when it made landfall. Hurricane Harvey stalled over Rockport for 18 hours, just churning and blowing and raining. What should have taken only 31/2 hours, took five, due to roads that were still flooded or closed because of electric lines or damage. When I arrived, I immediately got to work, helping push out the evening meal for several hundred hungry and tired residents, volunteers, and first responders. Our kitchen, three refrigerated trucks/trailers, and multiple tents/awnings were setup in the parking lot of a church that was “only” partially damaged with walls crumbling and roof leaking.
Mercy Chefs were also cooking at a second location, which was the prison in Rockport. Those at that location there were moved inland before the storm, and we were asked to feed the that group of first responders, government employees and military personnel as needed. This turned out to be a nice break: the prison was on a huge generator and had air conditioning! The temperature was in the 90s daily and the humidity was over 70 percent, so over the next five days, I volunteered to take the prison shifts as often as I could just to get cooled down. This also meant cooking with one or two helpers for 200-400 guests every meal for three meals each day! In fact, in just 22 days, Mercy Chefs fed over 40,000 meals in Rockport and over 60,000 meals in Houston!
Our deployment to Texas was shortened as Hurricane Irma rushed to make her arrival through Florida. Mercy Chefs arranged to fill the need in Friendswood with a replacement kitchen and immediately deployed to Florida in response to Irma’s damage and continued their mission feeding over 60,000 meals in the coming weeks. Mercy Chefs has just finished a deployment to California where they were setup in an area completely devastated by the recent wild fires, and are continuing to supply and support relief efforts in Puerto Rico by supplying and building commercial kitchens to help feed communities, schools, and an orphanage. If you would like to see what they are doing, volunteer or to donate to the current recovery efforts or upcoming events, please visit their website at www.mercychefs.com.
Additionally, Mercy Chefs is actively working to provide water purification systems to Puerto Rico. The people of Puerto Rico are facing a daily threat of disease and even death from the consumption of contaminated water. Please consider partnering with Mercy Chefs to reach hundred of thousands of our fellow Americans in need of clean, safe drinking water. Mercy Chefs is committed to helping the men, women and children whose lives were turned upside down by disaster this summer achieve recovery. It is your generosity that makes our commitment possible.