Local Church Aids Fort Myers Community After Ian


Boxes of supplies are stacked outside of Next Level Church to aid families after Hurricane Ian. Photo courtesy of Next Level Church

Carly Gugel, Contributing Writer

A local church spent the last three weeks teaming up with a national disaster relief organization to provide thousands of hot meals for people affected by Hurricane Ian. 

Yolie Brito, originally from San Antonio, Texas, moved to Fort Myers in 2012. Brito started to attend Next Level Church in April of the same year and became the Missions Director.

Brito attended training with an organization called Convoy of Hope in Missouri, where she was taught about disaster response and relief planning. At the training, Brito learned about Mercy Chefs. 

Mercy Chefs is a mobile, faith-based, nonprofit disaster and humanitarian relief organization. According to their mission statement, Mercy Chefs provides freshly prepared meals to victims, volunteers and first responders in natural disasters and national emergencies. 

“I reached out to Convoy of Hope and asked them for Mercy Chefs’ contact information in case we ended up getting directly hit by the hurricane,” Brito said. 

During the hurricane, Brito was in contact with Mercy Chefs as well as the pastor of Next Level Church, Dan Stauffer, to prepare a plan to serve the community. 

Mercy Chefs started their drive to Fort Myers on Tuesday, Sept. 27, despite the weather conditions. They arrived in Fort Myers on Thursday, Sept. 29, and served over 1,000 meals that night. 

“Having Mercy Chefs arrive so quickly allowed us to spring into action as soon as possible,” Brito said.

According to Brito, Mercy Chefs chose Next Level Church as their primary location because of their access to water and the space available to station their trucks. They provided supplies and tools and nationally recruited their own volunteers. 

Team members from Next Level Church delivered meals in vans to people, hospitals, first responders and neighborhoods in need.

“We knew what our strengths were, and we knew we could distribute things quickly, so we stuck to our strengths,” Brito said. “The results were better than I thought they ever could be.”

Mercy Chefs, with the help of Next Level Church, were able to serve roughly 23,000 meals a day from Thursday, Sept. 27, through Wed., Oct. 19, reaching a total of over 200,000 meals. 

The church utilized social media to recruit their volunteers. Elinor Elander, a student at FGCU, volunteered after the hurricane to get involved with her community. 

“After the hurricane, seeing the Fort Myers community come together was really impactful for me, and I knew I needed to get involved and help wherever I could,” Elander said.

According to Elander, she found the church’s volunteer website through Instagram and signed up to volunteer the following day.

“I was shocked at how fast the community came together after the disaster and how incredibly passionate and nice everyone was while I was volunteering,” Elander said.

Brito said she was glad the church could meet the needs of the community.

“With us not having kitchens and being able to team up with, Mercy Chefs showed us that they have a heart for people that is unmatched,” Brito said.