Hearts heavy as we serve

Our hearts are heavy as we grieve for the families impacted by the tragic shooting in Virginia Beach, just a few miles from our Mercy Chefs home office. Mercy Chefs will do whatever we can to be part of the healing in our local community as we continue to answer the calls for help from across the country.

Today here in Beavercreek,
our team recently finished serving our first meal -- lunch to volunteers who are helping with the extensive cleanup effort. No matter how many times I see the devastation left behind by these massive storms, it is always sobering. Houses leveled. Trees uprooted and mangled. Buildings destroyed. Whole neighborhoods devastated.

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Deploying NOW to OH tornadoes!

As I write, Ann and I and our Mercy Chefs team recently arrived in Dayton, Ohio -- one of the epicenters of the "swarm" of hundreds of tornadoes that have ravaged Ohio and the Midwest in recent weeks.

Earlier this week, a massive EF-4 tornado with wind speeds of up to 170mph ripped through Dayton and nearby Beavercreek, leaving a trail of destruction in its path. In Beavercreek alone, an estimated 1,000 homes and buildings have sustained damage, with hundreds having enough damage to possibly be uninhabitable or even a total loss.

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Inside Look At "Beacon Of Hope" (Video)

I just filed this report on progress on the transition of the school in Panama City into our "Beacon Of Hope" center, along with updates on the recent tornadoes and flooding that have hit the Midwest.

We need your help to get this vision launched! Go here to donate:

(NOTE: IF THE VIDEO DOES NOT PLAY, GO HERE.)

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Critical week

This is a CRITICAL week.

My team is rushing to get our Florida relief efforts focusing on thousands of children still homeless as a result of Hurricane Michael officially launched. Our plans now are to formally open our "Beacon Of Hope" center in the shuttered school that Panama City officials are allowing us to use by next Thursday (June 6).

That puts an enormous amount of pressure on this week to get the kitchen ready while we also retrofit the classrooms into bunkhouse rooms that can house up to 80 volunteers. Here's why the bunkhouse rooms are so critical...

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"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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