Three Mercy Chefs volunteers providing meals outside Mosaic Church on Dec. 11. From left to right: Madison, Lilly and Eva.

In the face of the deadly tornado that hit Clarksville, Tennessee on Dec. 9, organizations both within and outside of the city came together to support those affected by the storm. This includes Mercy Chefs, a Virginia-based nonprofit organization founded after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina that aims to “just go feed people.”

Founded by couple Gary and Ann LeBlanc, the organization works to provide restaurant-quality meals in times of crisis to people affected by the tornadoes, volunteers and first responders. And, after a series of tornadoes ravaged Central Tennessee, Mercy Chefs deployed to Clarksville Dec. 10 with the goal of serving up to 2,000 meals every day.

Mercy Chefs found themselves working alongside other organizations at Clarksville’s Mosaic Church to provide tornado relief. Founder and CEO Gary LeBlanc told The All State, “Thanks to our Nashville Community Kitchen, we were able to quickly mobilize our resources and begin serving meals in Clarksville the day after the storms.” 

According to LeBlanc, the organization strives to “bring comfort and hope to those whose lives have been upended through hot, nutritious, and delicious chef-prepared meals.” The goal is for these meals to include all the parts of a normal plate; protein, vegetables, bread, and fruits or dessert. “ We want the people we serve to know that in their time of need, they don’t have to worry about what to eat as they begin to pick up the pieces,” said LeBlanc.

Mercy Chefs takes pride in their quick response to disasters, “from bringing in mobile kitchens and refrigeration trucks to securing local partners and enlisting local volunteers.” Of course, the severity of the storm can cause extra difficulty and prevent the organization from responding as quickly as needed.

However, the rallying support of the affected communities is often able to relieve these difficulties fairly quickly. “We work with community partners, local authorities, and even state governments to ensure that we can get food to those who need it as quickly as possible,” said LeBlanc. 

Often, Mercy Chefs partners with local churches to get work done, as is the case with Clarksville. To continue to deploy swiftly and effectively, the team of chefs has to remain fairly small. This is where the efforts of volunteers come in.

According to LeBlanc, “Volunteers are the backbone of Mercy Chefs.” To provide thousands of meals daily, as they have done in Clarksville, Mercy Chefs relies on the help of local volunteers. “But most of our volunteers, from chefs who help us cook to those who help package the meals, come from the community we are there to serve–neighbors helping neighbors,” said LeBlanc.

Mercy Chefs isn’t just looking to provide physical relief to those impacted by the crisis. Rather, LeBlanc has found that providing meals also gives communities the comfort and hope they need to continue in response to disaster. “We believe that something truly amazing happens over a shared meal, and we see that in the tears, love, and appreciation of the communities we serve,” said LeBlanc.

The efforts of Mercy Chefs, fellow organizations, and their volunteers has allowed Clarksville to begin its journey toward recovery. “We want them to know that there are people all over the country whose support sends us to their community,” said LeBlanc.

Recovery cannot happen in a week, and the work to pick up the pieces will be difficult. According to LeBlanc, however, it’s worth it. “The road to recovery will be long, but it’s crucial for those most in need to have someone to turn to.”