I'd like to share with you the story of how Mercy Chefs began...

When I was just getting started in the restaurant industry in New Orleans, I didn't know how to carry a waiter tray! And I certainly never could have imagined that I would spearhead an international organization that would serve 15 million meals over the course of our first 15 years.

Truth be told, the passion behind this incredible relief organization wasn't on my mind at all. I was busy working in the fast-paced and highly competitive hospitality industry. Then Katrina hit my home town, and my life changed forever.

+ + How Hurricane Katrina changed my life

At the time, I was living in Virginia, but I'll never forget watching on television as that disaster unfolded. Street after street was flooded, and people were scrambling just to stay alive. One of the newscasts was showing people standing on a highway overpass as they tried to escape the rising water when I realized I recognized and knew some of those folks.

I had to do something.

So I got in my vehicle and drove to New Orleans and did the only thing I knew I could do in that moment, and that was to feed people. After two weeks of serving people, I returned home, but I couldn't shake something that really troubled me. In some areas after Katrina hit, storm victims were fed cold beans out of a can, day after day after day. Yes, it was food, but I knew we could do better.... I knew we had to do better, especially for those who had just had their lives turned upside down by a disaster.

+ + How my dream became a reality...

Over the next few months, I'd wake up in the middle of the night and write down ideas on how I could provide high-quality meals during disasters. Of course, I'm grateful for anything anyone does after a disaster, but I knew there had to be a better way to serve meals that would lift the spirits of disaster victims during a time of crisis.

So I approached some relief organizations about my idea of providing hot, chef-prepared meals in disaster relief, but I couldn't find anyone to take an interest. That's when I realized I would have to do this myself. And in 2006, Mercy Chefs was born.

For those first few relief deployments, I would pack everything I could into my truck and head to the disaster. Once there, I'd set up a kitchen, recruit volunteers, and purchase food and supplies (often on my personal credit card). Thankfully, the Lord would always provide enough friends to partner with me and share the financial burden. Most importantly, I immediately saw the impact those hot, chef-prepared meals were having on disaster victims. People receiving our meals would weep with gratitude -- as if we had just run into a burning building and rescued a family member. 

+ + Will you sponsor 15 or more meals as we celebrate 15 years?

I'll be sharing more about the power of a hot meal offered in the midst of a crisis. For now, will you consider sponsoring 15 (for a gift of $37.50), 150 ($375), or even 1,500 ($3,750) meals in honor of our 15th anniversary? Over the past 30 days, we've provided more than a million meals, and we need help to keep up with the increasing need. Go here to make your tax-deductible gift directly to Mercy Chefs as we build for the next 15 years of service and millions more meals:

Thank you so much for your partnership with Mercy Chefs. The Lord has used a faithful core of friends to sustain and inspire every meal and every outreach in our 15-year history. With all my heart and on behalf of the millions your support has helped us serve, thank you and God bless.

Gary LeBlanc, Mercy Chefs

P.S. When we open our hearts to the needs around us, God does far more than we could ever even imagine. That's my story of how Mercy Chefs was launched, and the same thing happens every time friends like you help us feed hurting families. Thank you again for all that you have done to help inspire every meal we've served these past 15 years. If you want to join our celebration by sponsoring meals, go here:

P.P.S. Yesterday, I asked for thoughts and comments on how Mercy Chefs has impacted lives by providing chef-quality meals to hurting people. If you haven't yet left your comments, would you do that now? Go here:

Katrina image source.