Thousands still homeless from storm

We are facing a post-hurricane humanitarian crisis on the Florida Panhandle unlike anything I have ever seen. This crisis has left THOUSANDS homeless at a time when key FEMA aid is shutting down -- making matters even worse.

In the past few weeks, I have been in close contact with city officials there regarding the situation. Hurricane Michael was the fourth largest storm in U.S. history -- but has received less aid than any hurricane that Mercy Chefs has ever seen. To exacerbate things, we just received word that FEMA recently cut funding for temporary housing. With 40% of all buildings in Panama City still uninhabitable and funds drying up, thousands are being forced to the streets. Reports indicate at least 5,500 children are now homeless, and with summer coming, they will be without access to regular meals. (Bay County only reported 858 homeless students prior to the hurricane.)

What has happened in Panama City and the Florida Panhandle is the greatest gap between need and relief that I have seen in the history of Mercy Chefs. It is tragic, and the victims are good people -- families and children who are suffering, many living on the streets or in tent cities. But God is making a way...

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I must move quickly

As you know, we've been busy finalizing our plans to rebuild the Haiti kitchen that was destroyed by fire. I must move quickly to secure the funding due to the aggressive goal of having the kitchen rebuilt by early June.

God has done amazing things through this kitchen. He placed Mercy Chefs' kitchen right at the epicenter of a powerful mission that is leading a restoration of this entire region -- reaching more than 100,000 residents!

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Inside look at Haiti (video)

As I've shared, it was a real "gut punch" when I first learned that our kitchen in Haiti has been destroyed by fire. My team prepared a video of our time in Haiti designed to give you a taste of why my heart is so moved by these wonderful people and this important mission:

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She walked miles... for a meal!

As I shared with you yesterday, with the fire destroying our Mercy Chefs kitchen, the team there is working out of a container with one burner, one oven and a table. They prep the food and wash the dishes out in the open because the container is so small.

But in Haiti, even the makeshift kitchen is a lifeline of hope....

+ + These moms walked miles for nutrition...

While we were at the site of the destroyed kitchen, we noticed that moms with their infants were coming to the makeshift complex where our kitchen resides. It turns out that many of these moms had walked miles with their babies to come to take part in the nutrition program sponsored by the mission.

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Deeply moved

I never dreamed I would see this...

Over the weekend while in Haiti, we visited the city of Onaville -- which is about a mile and a half from the mission which is home to our Mercy Chefs kitchen that was recently destroyed by fire.

+ + A tent city... transformed!

A few years ago, Onaville was nothing more than a "tent city" -- a place the poorest of the poor in Haiti were relocating in hopes of a better life. Providentially, God placed our kitchen just a short distance from this tent city. And over the years, that tent city has become a real city of 90,000 residents with homes and buildings and businesses. 

How did it happen?

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Heavy heart

As we prepare to leave Haiti, I'm departing from our brief trip with a heavy heart and mixed emotions.

God is writing an amazing story here (read more here). We see great accomplishments, but they stand in the midst of still almost overwhelming need. And now, we must rebuild the kitchen which has stood as a beacon of hope at the epicenter of a powerful mission that is impacting hundreds of thousands of lives.

We will need a few days to finalize our cost estimates, but I am now expecting the total cost of the kitchen rebuild to approach $80,000 -- about double our initial estimate. And we are already under intense time pressure to get this done. I'm turning to friends like you. Please go here to help Mercy Chefs rebuild this vital kitchen and continue other efforts, and see my update from yesterday on the amazing story God is writing in Haiti!

Gary LeBlanc

P.S. Our expected costs to rebuild the kitchen have doubled, but the thought of abandoning the project because it has now become hard or expensive is abhorrent to me. We cannot leave this work unfinished! I will not abandoned these good folks who are doing such a great work. Please prayerfully consider how you can help, and thanks in advance for your support.

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A "God story" in Haiti

We've been on the ground here in Haiti for a little over 24 hours, and the reality of the challenge ahead of us in rebuilding this kitchen is hitting us -- while at the same time we marvel at the amazing "God story" that has happened through this kitchen.

As I noted to you last night, our team is still working on the rebuild plan and the cost, but it is clear after seeing the situation firsthand, the actual cost could be double my initial estimates.

First, the damage from the fire was just as it was described to us -- a total loss. The equipment was totally destroyed and the building needs so much work that a rebuild from the foundation will undoubtedly be the best option.

Second, the kitchen is meeting a much greater need and fulfilling a much larger purpose than when we built it nine years ago. Today, this kitchen is at the hub of a thriving mission and community that includes a school for 600 children, two orphanages, a distribution center, and a hospital with three operating wings and a dental clinic -- in addition to supporting the many U.S.-based mission teams that come here to minister.

+ + How God providentially placed this kitchen...

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Report from Haiti (video)

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Post-fire makeshift kitchen (photo)

I wanted you to see the makeshift "kitchen" that is being used right now in Haiti in the aftermath of the fire....

They have a gas burner, a few pots and pans, and a massive amount of determination to make the best that they can of a difficult situation.

This is why I'll be on the ground in Haiti TOMORROW to further assess the situation and finalize Mercy Chefs' plans to rebuild the kitchen.

It would take a financial miracle, but I would love to tell the people there that caring friends across America have stepped up in an amazing way to fund most or even all of the rebuild costs!

I'll be updating you tomorrow from Haiti. For now, see below for more details on the fire and our rebuild plans -- and go here to make your best possible tax-deductible gift to help Mercy Chefs rebuild in Haiti and continue other vital efforts.

God bless!

Gary LeBlanc

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Fire devastation: orphans ran to help

We are learning more details regarding the Haiti kitchen fire as we make final preparations for the trip I will be leading on Saturday to further assess the situation and finalize our rebuild plans.

A few have asked how the fire happened. It appears to have been caused by an electrical issue or equipment malfunction. We are most thankful that there was no loss of life or further damage to the mission because THERE IS NO FIRE DEPARTMENT to speak of in Haiti! This is not America -- Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere with 60% of the population living on less than $2.41 per day. An American firefighter who happened to be in residence at the mission did everything in his power to stop the blaze, but with no firefighting equipment or emergency support, he was limited in his response. 

It was gut wrenching to hear that the children from the orphanage ran in the direction of the fire to offer their help. This was their kitchen! (Of course, they were kept at a safe distance.)

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