Three Minutes at Manna
Observations from three consecutive minutes at Manna this week:
Mark Mills, a chocolatier, professional chef, and, oh yes, full-time farmer at Chocolate and Tomatoes farm, pulls up to Manna Food Center in his pick up truck, bearing gifts: coolers and crates overflow with freshly picked collard greens, cucumbers, jalapeños and even fresh ginger. 648 pounds of fresh food for the families lined up in our lobby.
In the referral office, all five phones are active, three volunteers and our own Yelba and Silvia signing up clients to pick up Manna food boxes. In the summer, more children wait in line with their parents, sitting on the floor or their mommy’s laps. Over the cacophony of ringing-beeping-faxing-talking-printing cries a baby in the lobby. Not a whimper, a long heart-wrenching hungry cry. The crying crescendos over all the bustling of the lobby and referral office.
The open boxes, brimming with local produce, sit in a line waiting to go home. Our clients sit and stand in line for noon to approach, when distribution starts—though cabs and buses dropped off some men and women nearly two hours before. Despite the wait in this heat, despite the anxiety of carting home these heavy food packages (sometimes down the sidewalk with an actual cart), every person in line bestows a generous offer. You see, the baby crying—a curly-headed girl, 5 weeks small and barely filling out her diaper—is cradled in the arms of her mother. Her mother, who stands at the very end of a line now curled around Manna’s modest lobby to avoid the heat. So when Yelba steps out of the referral office to greet our clients and ask if Mom and Baby can get their food first today, everyone joyfully agrees. And, smiling, they move their chairs and bodies to make room for her stroller.
Witnessing this gesture was beautiful. But this moment of generosity is not uncommon: the giving that happens here is not just from Manna’s staff and volunteers. Unselfish hospitality abounds in this place.