PORTSMOUTH, Va. - When I interviewed Gary LeBlanc, he had just returned from feeding tens of thousands of people devastated by Hurricane Laura.
“All the trees down, all the power out and on top of that, they had five or six water treatment plants damaged beyond repair," Gary described. "We were responding to a great need for hundreds of thousands of people in the middle of a complete wasteland.”
Gary is the founder of Mercy Chefs, a faith-based organization that has been providing nutritious, hot, restaurant-quality meals to those who need them for 14 years.
And this year has been one of the busiest.
“We started with earthquakes in Puerto Rico and then two tornadoes in Tennessee, and now we’ve had three hurricane deployments. And then COVID and our own response to that here in our own community.”
Since he started Mercy Chefs, his team of volunteers has served 5 million meals in 26 states and nine countries.
“Mercy Chefs was born after Hurricane Katrina and my experience feeding people back in my hometown of New Orleans, and I just thought there was a better way. I just thought people who’d just lost everything should be shown a different level of care and compassion," he explained.
“There’s so much that goes into the box. There’s the care, there's the quality of the ingredients, the love and the safety aspect, and it's just really cool to come alongside of him and be a part of that.”
These folks are just a few of the 6,000 volunteers that Gary leads to some of the worst disasters of our time. Mercy Chefs has also provided meals right here in Hampton Roads to people who’ve lost jobs during the pandemic.
“He’s really passionate about what he does and really cares about the people he serves. He also cares about each one of us as family, so it makes it easy to follow along behind him.”
We caught up with Gary at the Mercy Chefs headquarters in Portsmouth, a rare moment this year when they were not deployed, to surprise him with a News 3 People Taking Action award and a $300 Visa gift card from our community partner, Southern Bank.
He was very surprised.
"Thank you so much. This is exciting," Gary said.
To nominate someone for a People Taking Action Award, click here.