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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UPDATE on kitchen fire

If you missed my message from yesterday on the Haiti kitchen fire, please click here to read.

Things are developing very quickly as we rush to make the near-impossible goal of having this kitchen rebuilt by June 1. So much has to come together so quickly. That's why I'm heading to Haiti on Saturday with a small team from Mercy Chefs to further assess the situation and finalize our plans.

As I noted to you yesterday, I'm committing Mercy Chefs to this kitchen rebuild, which we originally estimated at $40,000 but could easily exceed that by 25% or more. We simply don't have these funds in our budget, but I'm stepping out in faith. It would be incredible if we could have at least half of the funding by the time we are on the ground in Haiti this weekend. If you want to help, please go here to make your tax-deductible gift directly to Mercy Chefs. And see below for more details on the fire and our plan to rebuild.

Gary LeBlanc

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Fire destroys kitchen!

It is with great sadness that I share this news with you...

As we were in our final days on the Florida Panhandle, I received word that Mercy Chefs' kitchen in Haiti had suffered a devastating fire. It is a total loss

Thankfully, there was no loss of life. But the kitchen -- which has served 850,000 meals to mission workers and staff and is responsible for another 1.6 million for the Haitian community -- will need to be rebuilt basically from the ground up. All the kitchen equipment was destroyed, along with the wiring, plumbing, and gas lines. 

+ + The lifeblood of a missions community...gone

I was gripped with sadness because so many depend on this kitchen, which has proven to be one of the most successful long-term outreach efforts in Mercy Chefs' history. And now it is gone. The kitchen is the hub around which a thriving mission base has been reaching out into the Haitian community for years. For starters, five people are employed in the kitchen, which not only provides meals to foreign mission teams coming to Haiti but also to two orphanages, a 650-student school, and a hospital. 

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"Mercy Chefs Still Meeting The Need" (News Herald)

The Panama City News Herald featured featured Mercy Chefs' work with a cover story:

PANAMA CITY — Stationed at St. Andrews Baptist Church on Beck Avenue, Gary LeBlanc and his team are filling the demand this week for a universal necessity — food.

“People are so grateful that they haven’t been forgotten and that’s what we hear over and over,” LeBlanc said. “We’re still feeding people that are going days without food. There have been a mind-boggling number who walk up and say they haven’t eaten in two days.”

Read the entire article here.

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FL Need "As Great As Ever" (Video)

Our team filed this video report on conditions on the Florida Panhandle:

CBS News also recently reported on the "sickening" conditions:

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Urgent need this weekend in FL

The demand for meals has continued to grow all week as word has spread across this region. Yesterday, I shared Tammy's story (see below), of how she was so grateful that she went from a recipient of our meals to a volunteer distributor! She helped us reach dozens more families -- and stories like this are happening more and more as the community finds us through word-of-mouth or local media coverage.

Today, we're expecting long lines again and will serve another 3,000-4,000 meals. The demand has been more than double our initial projections. I'm turning to friends like you. Please go here to make a tax-deductible gift to help Mercy Chefs meet the needs this weekend and continue other vital efforts.

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Long lines (and Tammy's story)

We are still seeing LONG LINES of folks coming for meals. And the stories we are hearing are both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Please see below for Tammy's story, and go here to help us meet these needs and provide more than 4,000 hot meals in Florida today!  --Gary

Tammy came to Mercy Chefs this week with her two children for lunch. She lost her home in Hurricane Michael and is currently living out of her van.

Tammy, pictured here, is not alone. Many here are still homeless or displaced in "tent cities" or FEMA trailer parks. It's not uncommon to see an entire neighborhood of boarded-up homes -- the streets empty. Or houses half-draped in tarps as folks try to salvage a living space.

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BIG day in Florida

Good morning! Today is a big day here in Panama City. Yesterday, we exceeded 4,300 meals served and I fully expect we will eclipse that number today. As the word spreads, more and more needs are becoming apparent here. Folks remember Mercy Chefs and are so thankful that we have returned.

Here's my practical reality. When we planned this month-long effort, we expected the demand for meals would likely peak at about 2,000 meals per day. We have more than DOUBLED that estimate and the counts continue to grow. That means we need DOUBLE the support from folks like you.

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Our Two-Millionth Meal!

This week during our re-deployment on the Florida Panhandle, Mercy Chefs served our two-millionth meal! Watch as Founder Gary LeBlanc serves meal number 2,000,000 live to a family who lost everything:


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What Diana told me this weekend

This morning starts our busiest and most important week here in Panama City.

We'll serve about 3,500 meals each and every day as we take over a program that is providing hot meals to hundreds of families while expanding our outreach to potentially thousands of needy schoolchildren. This is in addition to providing hot meals for volunteers who are here to help with the cleanup.

And the cleanup job is immense! Massive piles of debris... Homes still covered in tarps... Yards that have never been cleared from the storm.

+ + Diana's story

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