PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – As the midwestern and southern parts of the United States prepare for another severe weather outbreak, locally-based relief agencies are standing by to help.
Mercy Chefs and Operation Blessing both have teams already responding to Mississippi and Arkansas as they watch the forecast.
“I think in all of our sites around the country and around the world, we will feed just over 20,000 people today,” said Mercy Chefs founder Gary LeBlanc.
The organization also has five kitchens operating in earthquake-ravaged Turkey, and it runs a community kitchen daily back home in Portsmouth.
“We are always planning for the next disaster,” said Operation Blessing chief of staff Jeff Westling. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s always a matter of when and where.”
As Westling and Operation Blessing’s senior director for U.S. disaster relief are retired Coast Guard captains, he said their experience helps greatly with the massive amount of logistics it takes to deploy volunteers and supplies.
Strategically-placed warehouses help both organizations respond quickly anywhere in the country. Operation Blessing has four warehouses – Chesapeake; Bristol, Tennessee; Grand Prairie, Texas and Ocala, Florida, while Mercy Chefs has warehouses located in Virginia Beach; Claremore, Arkansas and Huntsville, Alabama.
“We get tractor-trailer truckloads of groceries onsite almost every day,” LeBlanc said, “so it’s quite an operation to get the right things in the right place at the right times.”
Along with truckloads of supplies are thousands of rotating volunteers.
“It take a special type of person with a heart to serve others that will keep a bag packed and (be) ready to run,” Westling said. “In many regards, it’s like the firemen.”
Manpower and money, they say, are their only limitations.
“There are certainly circumstances that we can all imagine that would overwhelm us,” LeBlanc said. “We couldn’t be everywhere at one time, but as much as we’re able we’re going to answer the call.”
Want to help?
Click on the organization name to volunteer or donate to either Mercy Chefs or Operation Blessing.