Chef Gary LeBlanc built a career working in high-end resorts across the country, but in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated his hometown of New Orleans, he shifted his focus to helping communities recover after disasters strike.
While helping with the relief efforts following Katrina, LeBlanc was shocked by the low quality of the food being served to the people in need. "There were people working very hard and doing their very best, but I didn't see sanitation or food safety," LeBlanc recalls. "I didn't see professionalism, I didn't see passion. I didn't see love." He tried to improve the food quality by tapping his connections in the food industry, but no one was interested in helping, so he started his own nonprofit, Mercy Chefs, to tackle the issue.
Over the last 16 years, LeBlanc and his Mercy Chefs team have worked over 150 disaster zones in 25 states and nine countries, serving an estimated 20-million meals prepared under the supervision of professional chefs. And when they aren’t responding to natural disasters, they use their resources to support other organizations to help underserved communities across the country. Despite all that’s been accomplished under his leadership, LeBlanc won’t take credit for the organization’s success. "This is bigger than me," he says. "And I couldn't have imagined this 15 years ago. This really is an incredible thing … it's really taking on a life of its own."