Virginians head to Florida to provide aid to those impacted by Ian: 'The folks here are dear to our heart'

Posted at 5:10 PM, Sep 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-28 18:19:01-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- With Hurricane Ian not expected to have a significant impact on Virginia, the state government and nonprofits are sending resources and manpower down to Florida to assist in the response and recovery efforts there.

On the government side, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management said around 13 members from its National Capital Region Incident Management Team left on Wednesday to provide logistical and operational support in Florida's emergency operations center.

"Virginia received an urgent request from Florida to assist in response efforts for the incoming Hurricane Ian. Virginia will be assisting Florida with an Incident Management Response Team and they are deploying. Virginia stands ready to assist Florida for the incoming weather," according to the office of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Meanwhile, on the non-profit side, the Virginia-based Mercy Chefs has sent several crews down with the aim of providing hot meals to first responders and those impacted by the storm.

"The folks here are dear to our heart, we just knew that we were going to have to go," said Gary LeBlanc, who founded the group after helping in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2006. "Since then, we've served in 160 disasters, and 27 states, 11 foreign countries and we've served over 22 million meals."

LeBlanc said the difference with this deployment compared to years past is the nonprofit had finished work on a 30,000-square foot warehouse in Alabama that allows a quicker response than having to pull in equipment from their various sites around the United States.

"Here, we're able to begin moving equipment five days or a week ahead of time, pre-stage, and then more rapidly deploy to the need. So, this, this is a very, very strategic spot for us to be in," said LeBlanc.

He added some teams left for Florida on Tuesday and more would leave on Wednesday and Thursday. Each will go as far in as they safely can. Once the winds fall below 35 miles per hour, they will then move into the impacted areas.

"We know things change very rapidly. So we'll be flexible and will be poised to change to move to find the greater need and press into that."

LeBlanc said that his teams are especially looking forward to serving people their first hot meal after going through something like a hurricane.

"We believe amazing things happen over that beautiful chef-prepared meal. We do it as family, we do it as friends, but to go and do that with somebody that's just lost everything or been impacted by a storm is just an incredible thing to see," said LeBlanc. "We have people that will have that first moment of normalcy after a storm over one of our hot meals and they'll begin to cry. We see them contemplate their circumstance for the first time and we're there to meet them in that moment of need."

LeBlanc said anyone interested in following their response in Florida can do so on their website and social media.

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