Wherever disaster strikes, Ty Hunt wants to be there.
The reason: Ty, the director of nutritional services at Hancock Regional Hospital, volunteers his time and culinary skills to feed the victims of floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and more. As a part of the non-profit organization Mercy Chefs, Ty packs up and heads into disaster zones whenever he’s called—and sometimes when he’s not.
“I’ve always felt like my gift is to be able to make people happy with food, and this works right along with that,” Ty said.
The first of those kinds of trips was in 2012, after Hurricane Isaac hit Louisiana. The deadly Category 1 storm caused more than $3.1 billion in damage when it smashed into the southeastern United States with 80-miles-per-hour winds. Although he hadn’t been invited to participate in the relief efforts, Ty and a few friends piled into a 16-passenger van and headed for Slidell, La., which was particularly hard hit.
“That was my spark with Mercy Chefs,” he said. “I kept calling them along the way and telling them that we were on our way and I hoped they could use us.”
“When we got there, they showed up with a load of food. They didn’t know if I could cook a lick,” he said. “They asked if we could get 200 portions out by 5 p.m. that night, so we got to work. We cranked out 200 and got ready for the next morning.”
Since then, Ty has helped serve hot meals in disaster zones after floods, tornadoes, and several more hurricanes. Most recently, in 2020, he traveled to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, following a derecho—a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storm—that downed power lines, and destroyed crops, homes, and businesses
Mercy Chefs was founded by chef Gary LeBlanc after Hurricane Katrina devastated his hometown of New Orleans in 2005. The idea behind the faith-based, non-profit organization is to serve hot, restaurant-quality meals to the victims, volunteers, and first responders in disaster zones.
“A cold sandwich and a bag of chips fills a need if there is nothing else to eat, but a continuous diet of that over days doesn’t help raise morale,” Ty said.
Ty was preparing to respond to the Surfside, Fla., condominium collapse this year but efforts to recover the dead were completed before he left. As of July 2021, 98 people had died when a 12-story beachfront condominium in a Miami suburb collapsed.
Mercy Chefs set up a 24-hour food service for recovery workers who were searching for survivors.
“I was preparing to go down when they were able to find and recover all of the missing bodies, so the deployment ended about two weeks earlier than we thought it was going to, which is a good thing,” Ty said.
No matter what the mission, working in disaster areas is emotionally and physically draining. And occasionally it keeps Ty away from home, his family, and work at Hancock Regional for days or even a week.
So why is it so important to him to volunteer, and how is able to make the time?
“I come back refreshed mentally—worn out physically, but refreshed in my soul,” he said. “I think it keeps me from becoming hardened to the day-to-day grind that we see in health care. And, luckily, the team at Hancock Regional is good about seeing the need and giving me flexible hours so I can help in these situations.”
While Ty never knows when or where he’ll be going next, he’s grateful to have the chance to do the work and hopes to be able to eventually take his wife, Lea Anne, along.
“I just love helping people,” he said. “I love using the gifts that God has given me for this.”
If you enjoyed this story and know another one we should be telling about a Hancock Health associate, email your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org. It could be the next one we publish!