"Which one would you give back?"

"Which one would you give back?"

That's the question I felt the Lord ask me as I pondered all that Mercy Chefs is engaged in right now.

As you know, our team is less than one week from being on the ground in Panama City and just two weeks until we serve our first meals there. But there's so much more under way right now -- a bigger picture of what the Lord is doing to place this ministry at the very epicenter of urgent needs.

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Special Texas Announcement

Today, I'm in Wimberley, Texas, to formally announce that Mercy Chefs is establishing a disaster relief base of operations in Wimberley to serve Texas and surrounding regions. 

We will be joined by the Wimberley Chamber Of Commerce and the leadership of the town for a ribbon cutting and celebratory event commemorating Mercy Chefs setting up a base of operations in Texas. I will also be welcoming Chef Jay Bachman of Wimberley on board as a Managing Chef and the primary lead for Mercy Chefs' disaster response efforts in the region. We first met Jay during the Wimberley floods, and he has volunteered with us for many disasters since. Through Jay’s involvement as a volunteer, he is already very familiar with the unique DNA and culture of Mercy Chefs. The city of Wimberley is a very special place for Mercy Chefs. The town has embraced Mercy Chefs, and we are honored to have Jay join our team.

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My situation...

Here's my situation...

We are less than two weeks away from having our first Mercy Chefs team on the ground in Panama City to get started on the "retrofit" of the school we have been allocated. Our team will arrive on May 20th to perform work on the kitchen and convert  classrooms into bunkhouses.

In addition to the construction costs, we need to outfit the facilities for 80 beds -- mattresses, sheets, etc. The bunkhouse rooms are key because there is an urgent need for housing for workers and volunteers who will be coming this summer -- including counselors and youth development specialists who can help these kids through the debilitating trauma many are experiencing.

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This is shocking

What we are learning about the impact of Hurricane Michael on the children of the Florida Panhandle is absolutely shocking. And the toll is resulting in mental and emotional devastation in this community, especially for the children.

+ + An epidemic of emotional trauma

As I have connected with school officials in Panama City, I have learned more about the depths of the crisis. Right now, school officials are being confronted with what amounts to an epidemic of mental and emotional trauma in the children. An alarming number of children have had to be referred for mandatory in-patient mental health evaluations. During a time when the school system would refer one or two children for in-patient care, officials are seeing DOZENS of kids who are totally unable to cope with their lives in the aftermath of the hurricane.

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WHOLE HOUSES pushed to street?

Please share this with your friends. We must get the word out on the ongoing crisis on the Florida Panhandle! -- Gary

On Monday, the city of Lynn Haven (which neighbors Panama City to the north) made this post on its official Facebook page:

"Now is the time to put out your debris. As a reminder whole houses pushed to the curb will not be picked up.
Please separate debris on the right of way accordingly, please refrain from putting any debris in the roadway or ditches. Thank you!" 

It's almost unimaginable that, six months after the hurricane hit, city officials are still sending a "reminder" that "whole houses pushed to the curb" would not be picked up by the debris removal team! This demonstrates the level of the crisis going on right now in Panama City and surrounding communities.

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We have the "keys"!

We finished up our trip to Panama City and I have some great news...

We effectively have the "keys" to the school and kitchen
the city is allowing us to use for our "Beacon Of Hope" efforts this summer! I have been amazed at the amount of favor God has given us with this community. From city leaders to church leaders to folks we meet in the streets, we are being welcomed back with open arms. These people are desperate for help, and they trust that our Mercy Chefs teams will combine real compassion with excellent meals for their hurting community.

Now, I have a challenge!

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Update from Florida

We just concluded an incredible day of meetings with city officials and the Bay County school board. Panama City is facing a crisis this summer. They have thousands of children still homeless due to the hurricane and are looking to Mercy Chefs for help.

I came today to finalize arrangements with city officials for Mercy Chefs to use one of the public schools -- Patterson Elementary -- to conduct ongoing feeding programs for children in the community. From this location, we'll be serving meals directly as well as sending food out to community programs throughout the city.

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I'm headed to FL . Here's why...

Tomorrow (Sunday), I'm flying to Panama City for meetings beginning on Monday with school officials and a number of church partners.

I'm fully committed to this project. That's why I'm going now, to finalize plans so I can get our teams moving. The total cost through the summer could exceed $200,000, but more urgently we need support right now to keep our "Beacon Of Hope" long-term kitchen on track for a June 1 opening.

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"Maybe it's a rumor"

As we were in the midst of developing our plans to establish a "Beacon Of Hope" long-term kitchen in Panama City -- and before things were finalized -- I received a phone call that really shook me up.

It was from one of the pastors in Panama City with whom we developed a strong friendship during our many weeks of service in his community. We caught up on a number of things before he got to the point of his call...

"I've heard, but maybe it's a rumor..."

He could barely get the words out before he burst into tears and blurted out...

"Are y'all coming back this summer?"

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Congress blocking FL disaster aid?

As I've been sharing, Mercy Chefs is moving quickly to establish a "Beacon Of Hope" long-term kitchen on the Florida Panhandle to provide hot meals to the 5,500 children left HOMELESS as a result of Hurricane Michael.

This is one of the largest long-term disaster recovery projects we have taken on. The cost will be in excess of $200,000, but the need is that urgent in part because of this alarming fact:

To date, Congress has not allocated even ONE DOLLAR of disaster relief for Hurricane Michael victims -- despite the fact that this was the third-largest storm ever to hit the U.S. and was just upgraded to a Category Five hurricane!

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