BROOKLYN, New York - New York City's hungry are getting a helping hand this Thanksgiving as master chefs from several states have united to feed about 10,000 people in just five days.
It's a ministry that brings food and evangelism together.
Making Ends Meet
More than a million people in New York City struggle to put food on the table. Every day hundreds make their way to the Bowery Mission in lower Manhattan for help.
The mission's kitchen gets even busier around the Thanksgiving holiday. Chef Debbie Lowe wants to use her culinary talents to help people.
"I have everything that I need," she said. "The things that we do, we do for people that don't have the same thing that I have. Jesus loves me so much, I need to share that. I just can't keep it to myself I have to share that.
It's Lowe's second year volunteering at the mission with Mercy Chefs - a team of some of the best cooks in the country, who give up their Thanksgiving holiday at home to help the local New York ministry move from feeding hundreds to thousands.
Walter Taylor is a Virginia chef, who has also returned for his second year of mobile kitchen duty in the Big Apple.
"You go to bed and you try to rest and you are in your sleep like this, because you are cooking. You wake up tired, like you never went to bed," Taylor described the grueling experience.
"I have been doing this for years in the restaurants and people tip you and compliment you and say nice things to you, and most of the time it is not genuine," he said. "But this is an opportunity to give to people who when they say thank you or ask to shake your hand, it is a different feeling."
'Just Go Feed People'
The Bowery Mission has been serving hungry people in New York for more than 130 years. On a daily average, it reaches about 800 people in Manhattan alone.
However, the goal has always been to reach people in all five boroughs. Mercy Chefs have partnered with the mission and made that goal a reality.
Chef Gary LeBlanc, the ministry's founder, has also reached out to feed almost 300 people across the river in Brooklyn.
He actually started Mercy Chefs after helping feed people in his hometown of New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina.
He said it began with just four words from God, "Just go feed people."
"So it was an undeniable audible call that I just had to be obedient to," LeBlanc explained. "The Lord has provided everything that we've needed. We have only had to be faithful and mindful of his call."
The Mercy Chefs outreach in New York City is five full days of nearly non-stop cooking and feeding.
"Friday, we have an outreach in Chelsea Park," Lowe said. "So, literally as soon as that is over we have to rush to the airport and jump on a plane. So we are going to go home, just like this, smelling like turkey."
The volunteering continues long after the Mercy Chefs' Thanksgiving week is over. The other 51 weeks of the year, volunteer chefs are standing by, ready to respond in case of a disaster.
"We had one mobile kitchen in 2008," LeBlanc recalled. "In that year, in between the disasters we responded to and the outreaches, we fed 38,000 people in five disasters and two major outreaches."
Talking Turkey and Jesus
In 2009, Mercy Chefs has two mobile kitchens and even more volunteer chefs, like James Kelsey from New Mexico.
While this was his first mission, he left with lasting memories that are sure to bring him back next year.
"Shredding turkey and talking about Jesus," he said.
Turkey and Jesus -- now that's an unforgettable Thanksgiving meal.
*Originally published November 25, 2009.