The Africa Mercy has almost 400 hundred crew members serving onboard. The crew is extremely diverse, coming from over 30 countries and ranging in age, profession, and length of service. But they share a commonality - everyone needs to eat. In West Africa, access to food supplies is limited, and most crew members don't have personal space for food storage onboard. Various jobs on the ship have immediate and time-consuming needs, which don't allow time for food preparation.
Fortunately, the Galley has taken on the challenge of meeting the nutritional needs of the crew. Every day, a staff of 20 prepares 900 hot meals, which are served onboard the Africa Mercy. They begin preparing food at 8 AM every morning, including weekends, and continue until 7 PM.
"We feed all crew members living on the ship, the Beninese day workers, and the patients in the hospital," said Galley manager Jesse Mitchell. "It's such a big responsibility because food is such an important part of people's lives. Eating a good meal can really make your day."
Professionally trained as a chef, Mitchell is utilizing his culinary skills as Galley Manager on the Africa Mercy. Mitchell is responsible for planning the weekly menu, ordering supplies, and managing the galley staff. As galley manager, he has faced several challenges unique to the Africa Mercy environment. One example is planning menus to accommodate the international crew and their varied taste preferences.
"It is very hard because there is absolutely no way you can please everyone. We have over 30 nationalities living onboard, and everyone likes and wants something different. I try to give people options with salads, fruit, and sandwiches. There is enough that I think people can find something," said Mitchell.
Also, while the Africa Mercy is docked in West Africa, access to food supplies is limited. Utilizing available supplies and incorporating local resources to generate appetizing, nutritionally balanced meals requires both careful planning and creativity.
"In West Africa, you can't just say, 'I would like to have this spice or food product' and have it. You can order it, but it may not arrive for three months," said Mitchell. "I have to carefully plan the menus, keeping in mind the quantities of the items available in our storeroom."
Although it can be challenging and sometimes stressful, Mitchell has really enjoyed serving on the Africa Mercy.
"I never thought I could use my culinary skills for missions. I always wanted to serve in Africa, but I didn't see myself in a traditional missionary type of role. When I heard about Mercy Ships, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to go, do my job, and serve God overseas. I'm making a difference in the world, and working here has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life."
The work of the Galley staff often goes unseen. However, without their consistent dedication, the Africa Mercy would be unable to bring hope and healing to the lives of thousands.
"When someone has had a long day, a good meal can mean a lot to them. Sometimes crew come to dinner exhausted and tired from the day. Several times, the OR staff has expressed how grateful they were for a good meal after a long day of surgery. It's an amazing privilege to have such influence on people's lives," said Mitchell.
Written by Megan Petock