Food. A basic need that many of us don’t have to think twice about on a daily basis. Hungry? Open the refrigerator and grab a snack or drop by Publix for pub sub for lunch. As we approach Thanksgiving and a season filled with indulging and eating, I wanted to take my Behind the Scenes Series to Manna Food Pantry and brag on the incredible work they are doing for our neighbors in need who maybe don’t have the same food security luxury.
Manna is a local grassroots organization fighting hunger in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. They provide groceries directly to individuals and families in need. Their services are all offered free of charge and receive no government funding and have no national affiliation. Most of their funding comes from individuals, foundations, faith-based organizations, corporations, and businesses. Manna is nonsectarian, community focused and volunteer supported. They believe every person has a right to live free of hunger and to be treated with respect and dignity.
When I arrived at Manna I as met by Kerri Smayda,
Associate Executive Director, Melissa Branton, Marketing and Events Manager and Pearl — Kerri’s pup and Manna’s biggest cheerleader. Kerri and Melissa lead me through their massive facility and I was immediately blown away on how large their operation is.
Last year, which represents is Oct. 1, 2022 to Sept. 30, 2023 (Manna’s fiscal year) they distributed 803,338 pounds of food to 86,890 people – a 25% increase over the year prior and 55% of all people served were children! That is A LOT of food. And none of it would be possible without their top three — healthy food donations, financial gifts, and volunteers.
I even met a few of their full-time volunteers while I was there — Miss Rita, Bill and Bill number 2. Huge round of applause to these stand-up citizens who are volunteering up to 40 hours a week, Manna simply could not function without them!
All of the food is bright in through the same large garage door and then sorted by their volunteers. Dry food with the dry food, squishy with the squishy and canned with the canned. The cans are then all date checked and quality checked before being placed in the correct bins. The next stage of the process is moving the foods to the packable lists lines.
What are the packable lists? In order to affect lasting change in our community, Manna provides our neighbors with nutritious food and address their hunger-related needs. They do this through our Emergency Food Assistance Program at the pantry and their 17 specialty programs with 24 community partners.
The programs/partnerships allows them to go outside their four walls and into the community to partner with other organizations and agencies to reach some of the most vulnerable people in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. All food bags and boxes are provided at no charge to clients or partners and are packed to USDA Standards for a Healthy Diet, with the exception of the School Resource Officer Food Program which strategically utilizes grab-n-go, ready-to-eat food items.
Kerri and Melissa showed me how they pack for the Healthy Seniors Food Program at Westminster Village and their Backpack4Teens program. The Healthy Seniors Food Program at Westminster Village provides a 10-day supply of healthy food each month to more than 120 senior citizens residing in a low-income rental retirement community who must often choose between buying food or medication. Backpacks4Teens is a collaboration with the Santa Rosa County School District that enables trained school personnel to connect homeless and Unaccompanied Youth, as well as Emergent Needs students, (primarily 6 – 12-year olds) with Manna’s resources. Food is a critical stabilizing factor for these students, and it reduces the likelihood that they will engage in risky or illegal behavior to obtain food.
My tour concluded in the Client Services Area of Manna. This is where people come for Emergency food service Mondays and Thursdays. What I found so incredible about this is that Manna is not simply just providing food and sending these community members on their way. They offer counseling and resources to their visitors. First they find out how they ended up in their current situation and then see where they can help or they will guide them to the proper assistance.
Manna is truly a remarkable organization, and as Kerri mentioned multiple times, none of their work would be possible without healthy food donations, financial gifts, and volunteers. Like I said before, this is the season of indulging and eating but it is also the season of GIVING! If you are interested in volunteering this season, please consider Manna as one of your options.
One of Manna’s biggest food drives is coming on November 17th and they invite the entire community to get involved. The 16th Annual Fill the Mayflower food and funds drive – presented by Coastal Moving & Storage and benefitting Manna Food Bank – is November 17th. The public is invited to help Fill the Mayflower truck this Thanksgiving season with healthy food for children, families, senior citizens, veterans, and individuals in need right here in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
Coastal Moving & Storage and Manna, along with media partners Cat Country 98.7, NewsRadio 92.3, and WEAR ABC 3 News, invite the public to donate nonperishable food items and financial gifts on Friday, November 17, from 5 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., at Cordova Mall, 5100 North Ninth Avenue, Pensacola, between Red Lobster and Chili’s, across from Sacred Heart Hospital.
Donating is easy, and supporters can remain safely in their vehicles! Volunteers will offload food donations from vehicles at the Mayflower truck, and accept monetary gifts (cash, credit/debit cards and checks accepted). A donation of just $25.00 will provide food for five days to a child in need, and $50.00 will provide 30 healthy meals for a senior citizen.
Manna’s most needed food items are:
- Canned Fruit in 100% Juice (20 oz. and smaller)
- Canned Mixed Vegetables (16 oz. and smaller)
- Oatmeal (boxes of single-serve packets)
- Chicken and Tuna (12.5 oz. and smaller cans and pouches)
- Peanut Butter (1 lb. jars and individual cups)
- Microwaveable Dinners (e.g. Hormel Compleats)
- Canned Beans
Manna’s Fill the Mayflower food drive plays a critical role in meeting the needs of the hungry in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Food collected at Fill the Mayflower will help Manna provide nutritious food to neighbors in need in the coming winter months.
Fill the Mayflower is made possible by Coastal Moving & Storage and media partners Cat Country 98.7, NewsRadio 92.3, and WEAR ABC 3 News.
For more information, please visit www.mannahelps.org/events/fill-the-mayflower/.