By Elizabeth Filipe
Gary LaBlanc, the founder of Mercy Chefs, does not fit in any cookie cutter mold.
On December 7th, 2017, Rachel Ray invited Chef LeBlanc to her show, where she praised his way with a chicken. “I have seen you using a little knife to debone a whole chicken in less than three minutes. It’s amazing!”
Chef LaBlanc enjoys his recent rapport with popular Food Network stars, but most of all, he desires to be famous in the hearts of disaster survivors. After witnessing several natural disasters and national emergencies happening rock the United States in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Gary LeBlanc began to feel a tug on his heart. He noticed that the well-meaning organizations who rushed to garner support for the victims of these disasters fell short a very significant way. It took a chef to solve the problem.
“If you’re going to go and feed people after a natural disaster,” Chef LeBlanc insists, “You’re going to need to love on them. Cold, canned green beans fourteen nights in a row is not love. I felt the call to be the one that would go do something about that.”
So Mercy Chefs was born.
Mercy Chefs is a non-profit, faith-based organization dedicated to providing delicious, professionally prepared food to victims, volunteers, and first responders in the wake of national emergencies and natural disasters. Since its founding in 2006, Mercy Chefs has fed 1,750,000 individuals in 120 disasters in 27 states. Within 24-36 hours, Mercy Chefs has also rushed to the aid of victims in seven countries overseas using the manpower and willpower of 4,200 volunteers. Remarkably, Mercy Chefs’ relief efforts rely entirely upon donations from individuals and companies.
Though each of the organization’s core staff members receive training in chaplaincy and pastoral care, they do so because it makes them better chefs, not better preachers. The message of the Gospel forms the sturdy crust of the ministry. But delicious meals, simply presented with love make up the filling. Mercy Chefs agrees wholeheartedly with St. Francis of Assisi, whose simple directive mingles with the steam that rises from mashed potatoes and savory steak. “Go out in to all the world and preach the Gospel,” he wrote. “And when necessary, use words.” Most often, the words used by Mercy Chefs come from recipes. “Food is our mission,” says Chef LeBlanc. He uses ladles to share the love of Jesus; the table cloth is his mission field.
When asked to share a memorable part of his work, Chef LeBlanc remembers the families. These people have watched their rocking chairs and swimming pools and playgrounds torn apart by natural disasters. “We’re able to set a table where they can come and sit as a family. They’re finally able to think about what happened for the first time.” The gratitude with which these individuals respond to Mercy Chefs’ simple acts of kindness also impact Mr. LeBlanc. “When they see the meals we prepare for them, people thank our workers as if we’ve run into a burning building to save their child,” he says. These are moments he thinks about later.
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated massive areas in Texas’ coastal towns and cities. Mercy Chefs’ workers sprang into action. In Rockport, Texas, a town nearly 30 miles northeast of Corpus Christi, Hurricane Harvey unleashed its rain and wind with brutal force. The storm slammed down overnight, shattering windows and snapping telephone poles like twigs. In the hours following the worst of the storm, Mercy Chefs teamed up with the local Salvation Army, preparing and handing out more than 34,000 meals to the volunteers and newly homeless citizens. With the intense involvement of Mercy Chefs, Salvation Army served 585,727 meals, 582,686 snacks, and 642,066 drinks to victims and emergency personnel during Hurricane Harvey. “Collaboration is key to effective service and The Salvation Army is delighted to work with, and for the support of Mercy Chefs.”
Mercy Chefs’ involvement in crises situations goes beyond the rubble of hurricanes, to the hardship present in many inner cities homes. Here, Mercy Chefs serves nutritious meals to families who do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. They serve corn on the cob to children who have never tasted it before. Like the first time a baby eats a lemon or those messy birthday parties when a toddler’s birthday cake coats his face, food serves as a fuel but also a memory maker. In a whimsical way, as Mercy Chefs’ follows God’s lead to prepare delightful food, they also get to participate in the childhood—like eating corn on the cob for the very first time.
What are Mercy Chefs’ most popular meals? “Anything that tastes like Mom made it,” Chef LeBlanc says. Scrambled eggs have brought tears to the eyes of careworn moms and dads, with small children clinging to their hands. Women call Chef LaBlanc to marvel at the ministry’s kindness to their first responder husbands. “He doesn’t usually get to eat like this while he’s in the field,” she’ll say. “Thank you. Thank you.” Eating with Mercy Chefs’ is like coming home.
Mercy Chefs believes that Jesus clearly asks His children to go out and serve “the least of these.” They do this with relish, even extending their ministry to the homeless population. One woman marveled to Chef LeBlanc. “We usually get cold food and it hurts our stomachs. But you bring us meat. You bring us a whole piece of meat.”
“God invites us all to His feast,” says Gary LeBlanc. “We want to invite the world.” Jesus doesn’t give us the scraps that fall from the table. He gives us, in our broken world with our broken hearts, the whole piece of meat. Mercy Chefs wants to do the same. That’s the joy of cooking.
To volunteer or learn more about Mercy Chefs please visit https://mercychefs.com or (877) 746-9322.