What Have We Learned in 30 Years?
I’ve got a birthday coming up, and I have noticed that as I get older I become more and more interested in history. Maybe it is a sense of my own morality–the older you get the more your realize your time on this planet is limited. I also think that the longer you live the more you see what’s possible between people–both good and bad. I’ve started wondering what lessons can be learned from those who came before me.
Recently I became the Executive Director of Manna Food Center, in the very year Manna marks its 30 year anniversary. Indeed, today, November 4, is the exact day the bylaws of Manna were adopted in 1983. As part of my orientation to my new job, I read a history of Manna’s early years. I was startled to learn that some of the founding activities continued unchanged in its fourth decade. Can it be a good thing that history is repeating itself?In the early 1980s, the County Executive (then Charles Gilchrist) asked the Reverend Lon Dring to organize a county-wide Task Force to survey the needs of the hungry and poor in the County. Over the course of a couple of years, civil servants, faith-based leaders, and community activists began collecting and distributing food to the poor. Relying on volunteer efforts, local supermarkets such as Safeway were recruited to donate food for packaging into “Mannabags.” In its first two months, Manna distributed 49 such bags. The first official location was in the Hungerford Park Elementary School, using two vegetable coolers and one refrigerator donated by Giant. Sixteen founding organizations pledged financial and in-kind donations to launch Manna. The official logo was a grain sack branded “Manna,” as seen in the photo above.
Today, in 2013, Manna still relies on grocers including Giant, Safeway Whole Foods, Roots and many others to help fill the shelves of our 12,000 square foot warehouse. Government support–at the city, state, and federal levels–make the delivery of 4 million pounds of food a year possible. Smart Sacks are delivered to dozens of Montgomery County Public Schools, like the one in which Manna first operated. Hard-working volunteers from the community donate 64,000 hours of service. Faith based groups continue to be essential to Manna’s work. A recent Yom Kippur food drive netted 37,529 pounds of food.
In some sense, the fact that Manna is simply doing more of what it has been doing for the past 30 years could be a cause for a discouragement. Sure we have more trucks. Our “Mannabags” are now “boxes” weighing up to 70 pounds and going to 3,600 households a month. But with a mission to “eliminate hunger in Montgomery County,” we need to look back as we create a way forward.
The Board of Manna Food Center has endorsed a strategic plan that envisions Manna as a true Center of service, education, and advocacy. Through our activities over the years and across our neighborhoods, we have learned that no one agency can solve the community problem of hunger and food insecurity. The causes of poverty are too complicated and the untapped resources of our community too vast, for us to act alone. In its next decade, Manna Food Center will be an organization that achieves synergy with our many stakeholders–volunteers, donors, clients, and peers–in the common cause to fight hunger.
For 30 years when people have thought of Manna they have thought of food distribution. We are proud of that work, and we will do more of it as long as any one person is hungry. We will also strengthen the other elements of our mission–education and advocacy. Check out the photograph from a Manna Market Day, where a young client learned about the wonders of basil. Nutrition education is becoming a hallmark of Manna’s expertise.
Coming full circle from our early days as a County Task Force project, Manna’s tradition of food rescue allow us to champion the work of the County’s Food Recovery Work Group. We are staying true to our origins–confronting hunger–but also innovating in our approaches to these issues. In our next decade Manna will not be satisfied by reaching tens of thousands of hungry residents of our great community with nutritious food. We will work to end poverty, create opportunities for health and wellness, and raise our voice to help Montgomery County fulfill its potential as the most outstanding county in our great state.
Our vision is bold and, as we know, we can’t fulfill it alone. If you have ideas or reflections on what Manna should know about our County’s future and our role within the community, please reach out to me at jackie “at” mannafood.org, call 240.268.2524, or invite me to your next event. Although I may be older than Manna (I’ll soon be celebrating birthday number 48), I am energized by our mission, the talent of our Manna team, and the potential of collaboration. I will do my best to get to know you and create ways to work together. I’m humbled by what Manna has accomplished since a group of politicians, faith leaders, and activists started this organization 30 years ago. I am determined to make the most of our role in the community for the future. All of us at Manna look forward to welcoming you into our Center of activity to fight hunger together.