Texans LB Whitney Mercilus with Chef Elliott G. Kelly (Photo by Michelle Watson)

COVID-19 has forced many non-profit organizations to adjust how they are raising money and how they are assisting the many people in need. During this 2020 gala season, nearly all fund raisers have been canceled, which for many organizations, would be their largest of the year. Houston Texans’ outside linebacker, Whitney Mercilus, and his WithMerci Foundation that serves families of children with disabilities, found a way to adjust.

Mercilus recently hosted, for donors, a virtual cooking class, ‘In the Kitchen with Whit’, from his home. He was joined by NBA Legends Mario Elie and Otis Thorpe, Clerenda McGrady (Tracy McGrady’s wife) and nearly 40 donors cooking in their personal kitchens. Through sponsorships and individual tickets purchased, Mercilus and WithMerci raised $70K to continue the mission of serving children with disabilities.

“This year has been a roller coaster. I was so excited to celebrate 5 years, we had these amazing plans, and then we were presented with a pandemic. As much as I have enjoyed hosting Dine WithMerci each year, the health of our community is more important. I enjoy cooking. It brings me peace. So, this was a great alternative to connect with everyone who continues to support the WithMerci Foundation,” Houston Texans’ Whitney Mercilus said. During quarantine, Mercilus shared his cooking with his fans on social media and introduced a new dish weekly. ‘Cooking on Wednesdays with Whit’, allowed Mercilus to connect with thousands of viewers weekly not just as the outside linebacker, but as “Chef Mercilus”.

For the ‘In the Kitchen with Whit’, entrée, Mercilus was joined by Chef Elliott G. Kelly, Chef de Cuisine at The Annie Café & Bar, and the former Café Annie. A native Houstonian whose Southwestern cooking roots run deep, Elliott Kelly has overseen all kitchen operations for the iconic Galleria-based restaurant for over 25 years. In 1994, Kelly joined forces with James Beard award-winning chef Robert Del Grande at Café Annie and the rest is history. Since then, he has been creating unique, first-class menus for the most challenging palettes in every arena of entertainment. He has dazzled the taste buds of political dignitaries, professional athletes, music icons and corporate professionals from around the nation. For the past five years, he and Del Grande were selected to participate in the prestigious Taste of the NFL event, earning the honor to represent the City of Houston and the Houston Texans on a national stage.

For dessert, Mercilus was joined by Chef Alejandra Salas, Pastry Chef of Bludorn, who was born in Barcelona, Spain. Her passion for cooking serendipitously found her while visiting a friend in New York City. She felt an instant connection and immediately moved to New York in 2011 to attend their nationally recognized pastry program, which she completed in 2013. Following her tenure at ICC, Alejandra dedicated her first years honing her skills at some of the country’s most prestigious restaurants, working under celebrated chefs including Chef Tyler Atwell at Bar Boulud, Chef Alejandro Briceño of Nobu in Houston and most recently at Michelin 3-Star restaurant, The French Laundry in Napa Valley. Houston came calling when fellow Boulud-alum, Chef Aaron Bludorn invited her to join his culinary team for his first solo venture. Alejandra has made Houston her home and is looking forward to developing a dessert program that combines fresh, seasonal ingredients with French technique.

Mercilus made the virtual event a party and made sure everyone felt like they were in the same room. His team created the event to be a true gala from your home. Patrons received all ingredients for the entrée and dessert along with a bottle of wine hand-picked by Mercilus. Participants will enjoyed music from DJ Gracie, there was an on-line silent auction, and donors were able to engage in conversation with Mercilus.

The WithMerci Foundation was created in 2016 and has raised over $400,000. Mercilus and WithMerci have served nearly 5,000 kids and have partnered with nearly 10 organizations to help build programs for children with disabilities. Mercilus’ passion for children with disabilities started when he began his career with the Texans nine years ago. Mercilus’ passion to give back goes beyond just the community he lives in, but also his family’s native country, Haiti. Mercilus plans to grow the foundation on a national scale and to continue to help the many families of children with disabilities.

To learn more about Whitney Mercilus and his philanthropic efforts please visit www.whitneymercilus.com and to learn more about the WithMerci Foundation please visit www.withmerci.org. Connect with the foundation on all social media platforms @withmerci.