Sunday, December 20, 2009

Showing Up - December 19, 2009

We weren't sure what the day would bring. Snow was coming down, with predictions of more than 12 inches to follow. Walking into the church kitchen (next door to Manna) where we were to hold our annual Christmas party, Marty was there carving a turkey. He had arrived around 8:30 am with his apron and knife. As the snow continued to fall, other volunteers came on the scene.

Walking over to Manna, I saw a trail of cars pull in. It was the North Penn girls lacrosse team. They had prepared dozens of cookies and other treats for the party. The girls carried the goodies over to the church as other helpers continued streaming in.

When it finally came to serving time, more then 100 guests had filed in to share a meal. While we had thought we would scale down the activities because of the weather, our guests would have nothing of it. They stayed and talked, sharing their hearts and stories with one another...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Manna Moments

It was a typical "Manna Moment." A gentleman stopped in to drop off a financial gift. We thanked him for stopping by, and he explained that he had gotten such a nice thank you note the last time, that he wanted to drop off his check in person.

He was about to leave when he asked if there was anything else we needed. After thinking a moment, I mentioned that we were planning for our annual Christmas party on Dec. 19th. We are going to serve ham, I told him, and we didn't have any yet. If he could buy a ham for us, that would be great. Perhaps others would donate some before then and we would have enough to feed the crowd we were expecting. I was about to tell him more about the party, when the phone rang and interrupted us. When I finished and turned, he had already gone.

Less than an hour later he returned. He walked into our office with five huge hams, more than enough for our party. I tried to thank him, but be just smiled and walked out...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

One-night Stands

That's our normal policy. If a single, homeless man needs a place to stay for the evening, we will put him up in a motel for one night, then move him along to a shelter (we refer them to Norristown or Pottstown, and if there's no room there, to as far as Philadelphia). We simply do not have the funding to sustain all the men out there who have no place to live.

But when Bobby (not his real name) showed up at Manna yesterday morning, we needed to do something different. We called a local motel and set him up for four nights. The weather forecast was calling for snow and freezing temperatures, and it can be nearly impossible to get into a shelter on the weekend. Too, he had made arrangements to move into another place in town, but it would not be available until Wednesday. To turn him out on the streets after just a night or two just didn't feel right. Besides, Bobby is a regular guest at our soup kitchen. He's brings to mind what an troubled, older brother might be... a good guy, but one who, for a variety of reasons has had difficulty getting his life together.

We have our rules and policies, but at times it's necessary to break them, simply because it's the right thing to do...

Sunday, November 29, 2009


A couple of weeks ago we held an off-site meeting to review what all we were doing on a daily basis. One of the issues that came up was, that to a large degree, what we are attempting to do is impossible.

Barry, our food service coordinator, strives to coordinate meals for seven days a week, with only a guess as to how many guests will show up to eat. Over the past year, over 16,000 meals were served.

Our director of volunteers, Liz, attempts to schedule, train and facilitate over 2,400 volunteers to serve the meals, stock the food pantry, clean refrigerators, seal letters, along with a variety of other duties. Volunteers range from age 5 to 85.

Nadja is Manna's case manager - unlike her peers, who often have a case load of 5 to 10 clients, attempts to meet the needs of over 400 households.

The words of Gale Baker Stanton inspire us onward:

To achieve all that is possible,
we must attempt the impossible.
To be as much as we can be,
we must dream of doing more...

Sunday, November 22, 2009


A young man raises up his hands, interlocks his fingers and brings them down to rest on his head. There is a look of despair on his face. Something very wrong has happened and it's entirely out of his control. Crestfallen, he wonders what to do. The opponent's team has intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown, and his team has lost.

Earlier that day, unknown to him, a single mother stopped in at Manna on Main Street. She was unemployed, and did not have the money to pay her electric bill. She and her family would be cold, living in the dark, were it not for the good people in our community that provide us the funds to assist people in need.

How is it... where is it... that we decide to pour out our hearts, expend our passion, our energy...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Turkey Special

We've been going back and forth with the good people from Merck. Each year they provide us with turkeys for our holiday basket distribution. We weren't certain when the birds would arrive, but we just learned they will be here on the Monday before Thanksgiving. They'll be delivering the usual number of turkeys: 648.

This sounds like a huge number, and it really is... but each year we manage to distribute all of the turkeys... by working with other local food pantries, churches and other religious organizations. Actually, this year, 648 turkeys may not be enough. Every food pantry in the area has seen dramatically increased needs, and more organizations are contacting us for help. We're still not certain how many families will need food baskets, not just for Thanksgiving, but for the Christmas holiday as well. Still, we remain confident that everyone will be fed...

Saturday, November 7, 2009


They would show up for the soup kitchen nearly every day. The mom and her kids - three girls and a boy, all under the age of nine. In the beginning they were a mess. Invariably one of the little ones was crying, while the others were spilling their drinks and dropping most of their food on the floor. On top of that, they weren't very good at cleaning up after themselves. And when there were take-home items for the guests, they were usually the first in line, taking more than their share. At the outset, it seemed like they were interested only in taking.

But over time, there has been a marked change. They have learned about sharing, and are truly thankful for the food they receive. What really highlighted that was an incident last week. Since the children are so young, the family receives free milk through WIC (a program for Women, Infant and Children). The mother had not been able to find her milk coupons for the past few weeks and eventually found them under her car seat. All the coupons were going to expire the next day, but even with four kids, they would not have been able to use all the milk themselves. So she went to WIC and redeemd the coupons and donated 9 gallons of milk to Manna. She and her daughters were beaming with joy as they carried in the milk.

It was another reminder for us that people who are receiving also respond when there is an opportunity to give...

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Sunday night, Nov. 1st is our big event. We'll be celebrating the book we've written, Those People, and having a fundraiser as well (details on our web site). The intent is to raise awareness of our need for a new facility so that we can improve and increase our outreach to people in need. Some would argue that it's a new beginning. I would suggest that is not the case at all.

Nearly 30 years ago a group of caring individuals came together. They realized there were real people struggling to get by: elderly, working poor and homeless who needed a helping hand. Today, it is the same situation. Only this time there is a larger gathering of neighbors to lend support. The broader community recognizes that the needs in our neighborhoods continues to grow. They further accept the calling and responsibility to respond, just as that small group did years ago.

Often, there is more power and hope in an old beginning...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hot Tickets

The conversation never really went too far.

On Sunday, November 1st, Manna on Main Street will be holding its fundraiser to celebrate its book "Those People" and to raise seed funding so that we might find a larger facility. Also on that evening there will more than likely be an event in Philadelphia that may create a conflict for a handful of individuals. The question was, should we do something to accommodate those who may be torn between watching a baseball game and making a difference in the lives of people in need.

The conversation never really went too far...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Mess

That was the best way to describe my office Thursday morning. My laptop was resting on a shelf littered with papers. My desk was covered with a tablecloth. A large folding sign was in the center of the desk along with a stack of fliers. I had to smile. It was the nursing students again. They had taken over our offices the previous Friday providing flu shots, and they were back again offering health screenings and advice to our clients.

It's really an ideal situation for everyone. The nursing students get to practice what they have learned by working directly with individuals who often do not have access to health care. Often it creates chaos, and a bit of overcrowding in our small facility, but it's worth it. The clients really appreciate the personalized attention they would not receive in a clinical setting. It is really an expression of what Manna is all about: people coming together in a friendly, caring environment, to serve and to be served...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It isn't and It is

Tickets. For the past couple of weeks our board members and other volunteers have been focusing on selling tickets for our upcoming November 1st event. We will be at the Lansdale Center for the Performing Arts, celebrating the book we've written, and having a fund raiser for Manna. The funds raised will be used as seed funding to find a new building for Manna.

One of the board members put it well: It isn't about the money, and then again it is. We aren't raising money for money's sake, we're doing for a larger reason. Our present space is woefully inadequate to effectively serve our clients today. And it is limiting our ability to grow and explore new ways that we could serve. And so it is about raising money. Part of that will come through ticket sales, and the other from the auction and raffle items we will have at the event.

Details are available at

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mom and Dad on Main Street

Reality TV inched a bit closer to reality. Yesterday, a camera crew from BBC New York was on site to film an episode of Bank of Mom and Dad. The show will be aired on Wednesday, Nov. 11th at 10 pm (Verizon channel 143 SOAPnet). The premise of the show is this: young women find themselves in financial difficulty and turn to their parents to help them out.

In this segment, Stacy, came to Manna on Main Street to give back to the community and also have a reality check on where she could find herself if she didn't learn to better manage her money. Stacy prepared a salad, helped carry in food donations and served meals to Manna's clients. She also had the opportunity to talk with some of the regulars and get a perspective on what their lives are like.

One of the things revealed in those conversations is that for many of our clients, Manna winds up playing the role of parents. Good people find themselves in difficult situations and need someone to turn to for help. Sometimes the help is a meal, a little financial support or just someone to listen and offer advice. Like good parents, we don't give them everything they ask for, but we do our best to lead them to the path for a better life...

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Doctor Makes Home Visits

It was 6:00 when the doctor arrived this morning; along with him were more than 50 members of his drill team. Yes, It was Dr. Drill again. He and his troops delivered over 35 bags of much-needed food for Manna's pantry. They jogged from the local YMCA with back packs full of pasta, canned fruit and healthy snacks.

This is the time of year we have the most difficulty with food supplies. Families are getting back into the routine of school and other fall activities, and they tend not to remember to make food donations. We are thankful that Dr. O and his friends are there to help - even if it is very early in the morning...

Friday, September 18, 2009


A gentleman, we'll call him Bob, walked into our office at Manna. He wanted to know if we could give him gift cards to the local drug store. He said he was low on cash and needed to pick up some personal items. We know Bob well... and that he smokes a pack of cigarettes each day. We told him we wouldn't subsidize his smoking habit.

Michelle came to our food pantry one day, saying she just wanted to take a few items without signing-in. After she was told she couldn't just walk in a take things, she began verbally abusing the volunteer who was helping. When a staff member stepped in, we learned that Michelle never registered with us before and wasn't a resident of the community.

Individuals come to us with requests that at times can seem ridiculous; but that doesn't mean they are ridiculous. They believe their need is genuine and we do our best honor that perspective. It can be a challenge to not judge them and to uphold our personal standards of treating everyone with dignity and respect...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Do You Sumo

Saturday afternoon, Ben Gross and Andy Szekely, the two Lansdale mayoral candidates faced off in a classic sumo wrestling match. Actually, it was pretty silly... in a good way. They bounced around, grappled, danced and rolled on the ground. The reason for the match was to draw some attention to the mayoral race and to have some fun. As a side benefit, they asked spectators to donate $5 to Manna on Main Street.

But it wasn't about the money raised, or who won the matches - other borough council candidates who participated were Mary Fuller vs. Paul Clemente, Bill Henning vs. Mike Sobel, and Matt West vs. Dan Dunigan. It was really about this community and how we take time to come together, have fun, and work side by side to serve people in need.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bearing Fruit

One would think that Manna on Main Street takes a great deal of pride in what happens in our building. Seven days a week, people in need have a place to come to for friendly conversation and a hot meal. While it is rewarding to witness the many ways in which people are fed, Manna doesn't really take credit for that. It's really the caring individuals who donate the food and come to serve, who deserve the praise. I think about the words of Peter Drucker, the renowned management guru. He coined a phrase that fairly reflects our role in the community: "the fruit of our work grows up on other people's trees."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Back Home, With No Home

Debby is homeless... again. She came to us back in December, looking for temporary help until she could get her life sorted out. We put her up in local motel for a couple of nights and referred her to a shelter in a neighboring town (there are no shelters in our area). Debby managed there for a while, but ran into some problems when her "ex" showed up. Words were exchanged, a physical exchange ensued, and Debby was banned from the shelter.

Debby made her way back to Manna on Main Street one evening and found herself in the same motel. We were reluctant to offer her a room again - it would not really lead her to anything better. Still, we could not just leave her to spend a night on the streets. It's hard to say what will happen to her next...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Graffiti - Art

Sometimes we're not certain: is it graffiti, is it art or is it something entirely different.

When volunteers come to serve for the first time, we ask if they'd like to sign our walls. We've found that it gives them a sense of ownership, and, well, it's fun. At the same time, some of our walls are really covered and one or two people have commented that they don't care for the look. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Scaling Up

Some nonprofits today are struggling. Funding is not as plentiful as in the past, and so they are forced to cut back on their programs and eliminate staff. While Manna on Main Street is certainly not awash with money, we have been able to hold our own. In fact, we've had to increase our services because of the increased demand. We used to average 25 guests at each meal and now the number is closer to 35. More and more people come to sign up for the food cupboard, and in July alone we helped families with more than $7,000 in rental assistance.

The reason we are able to do all these things is because of our caring community. Just as people show up looking for help, neighbors call or stop in asking how they can serve. Our biggest challenge is physically accommodating everyone - our building is pretty small - but we're working on scaling up there as well.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Just for Kicks

More than 50 kids, teens and adults from Villari's Self-Defense Center in Chalfont will be holding a Kick-a-Thon on Saturday Oct. 3rd at 1:00 pm to benefit Manna on Main Street. Each student will be doing 500 kicks to raise funds for our soup kitchen.

Chief Instructor Harry Pfister will be there to inspire everyone to get all their kicks in, and we will be there as well, cheering them on. If you'd like to stop by to join in the fun, Villari's is in the shopping center on Rt. 202 and County Line Road.

Friday, July 31, 2009


We should be feeling pretty comfortable...
- Food donations to the cupboard have been strong
- Enough funds are coming in to keep us operating
- Volunteers continue to show up to serve

Still, we look over our shoulder...
- Are we doing enough to serve people in need
- Can we utilize our resources more effectively
- Do we provide meaningful opportunities to those who want to serve

A little paranoia can be a good thing. It makes us continually examine what we do and strive to do more...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

The video was fascinating. It was a simulation of our world and the continents as they drift over the millennium. Hundreds of millions of years of movement back and forth, from far back in time, to today, to the final stage in the video: 250 millions years from now North America crashes into West Africa.

It can be sobering, trying to imagine 250 million years from now. Especially in a soup kitchen. By our very nature, we deal with the realities of the day. Yesterday we served nearly 90 meals; nursing students were here doing health checks for our guests; a check was dropped off at the Lansdale Borough building, paying for an elderly woman's utility bill. Today, as this is being written, Liz is putting the soup on the stove, uncertain how many will show up for a meal today. She will also be planning for the meals to be served tomorrow, another unknown.

Still, even though what we do is for the here and now, our works stretch beyond the day. Guests and volunteers come together, stories are shared, people are fed...

Friday, July 17, 2009


The story line becomes familiar. An individual is in crisis...

- they have received an eviction letter because their rent is past due
- their electricity has been shut off because of non payment
- the oil tank is empty and deliveries have stopped

Sometimes the individual will see themselves as a victim, a prisoner of a system that treats them unfairly. It can be paralyzing for them, causing them to do nothing. In our discussions with the individual, we do our best to have them look objectively at the situation and take ownership of their life. We help them see that at times they can become prisoners of their own thinking.

Based upon a number of different factors, we will help them through the immediate crisis; however, our long-term objective is to have them abandon the prisoner mentality. It can take months, even years for that to happen. Unfortunately for some, they never set themselves free...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Iron Eagles & Dr. Drill

It would seem that these two groups should be very different. The Iron Eagles are a local motorcycle club. Naturally, folks tend to visualize a lot of leather, denim and tattoos. And to a degree, that's true. The Dr. Drill team is a little more difficult to categorize. Lead by Dr. O, who runs a fitness boot camp, the members work out to the cadence of the good doctor. They wear camouflage t-shirts and running shoes.

What the Iron Eagles and Dr. Drill have in common is that they are incredible supporters of Manna on Main Street. Earlier this week, the Eagles stopped by with yet another truck load of food. They had a food drive and had also gone shopping with left-over money from a fund raiser. At 5:45 this morning, more than 50 members of Dr. Drill's team jogged from the local YMCA to Manna to deliver food they had collected.

Like so many of our supporters, the Iron Eagles and Dr. Drill work under the radar and often don't receive the recognition they deserve. At the same time, they don't try to make a big deal out of their good works. They just do it.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Frisbee Food

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are frequent helpers at Manna on Main Street. They come as part of a troop activity and then wind up returning when it's time for them to earn a special badge. John McCullough is one in a long line of Eagle Scouts who chose a project to benefit Manna. While most of the Scouts have opted to build shelves or undertake a repair project, John took a different route. He organized an Ultimate Frisbee tournament, recruiting eight different teams. Each player was required to bring nonperishable food goods, and John wound up collecting over 500 food items. John is just another example of how the young people in our community find innovative ways to give back and make a difference.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sneak Preview

Folks will often ask us, who are "those people" who come to Manna on Main Street. Some have used the phrase "those people" in a demeaning way to describe our clients. Others, more innocent, are curious about who finds their way to a soup kitchen. To help clear up the confusion, we've written a book about the people who have come through our doors and how we've changed their lives. Stay tuned for details on when the book will be available.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Volunteerism = $0

Some organizations proudly proclaim that their volunteers provided "$xxx" of service over a given time period. They count the number of volunteer hours provided, multiply by a given hourly rate, and publish the results. There's even a web site that estimates the dollar value of volunteerism by state, as if someone's time in Pennsylvania is worth more or less than an individual's time in New Jersey.

At Manna on Main Street we believe that assigning a dollar value to an individual's time implies that it can be bought, purchased, had for a price. The practice of monetizing a gift trivializes not only the service, but the intention behind the service. It's like when a young child you care deeply about scrawls in crayon, and presents to you a picture colored outside the lines. You take that picture with great joy and hang it on the refrigerator for everyone to see. You never take that picture down or throw it away. And probably the last thing on your mind is to attempt to calculate the dollar value of an act of love.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Voices in our Heads

For the most part, the folks who come to Manna on Main Street are pretty much like the rest of us... they work, have families, have their joys and struggles. Every so often, individuals will show up who some would label as "different." A number of years ago a young man came to eat every day. He wore an aluminum foil hat. Upon entering the building he would spin around three times, then sit down and enjoy his meal. We might wonder what voices were in his head, telling him to wear the hat, spin around, and if interrupted from his routine, disappear for days. The voices he heard weren't necessarily bad, just different from ours. Too, how he responded to the voices really did no one any harm.

I think about the voices we hear. Sometimes they are not always helpful, but hopefully, how we respond brings about some good. We try to pay close attention to the voices we hear, never knowing how they might positively impact those around us and how they might reveal to us ways in which we can increase our service to others.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Summer Vacation (or not)

As the summer approaches, we do our best to change things up at Manna on Main Street. We ask our regular volunteers, those who come in each week to serve, to take the summer off. They really deserve a break, and too, it opens up the schedule for adults and youth who are available because of time off from school or work. Some of the regulars have said yes, they could use a break, and we probably won't see them again until September. Still, others don't want to take the time off. Coming to Manna and seeing our guests has become such a big part of their lives, that they are reluctant to give that up.

Manna's vision is "that everyone might be fed." At times we can forget that being fed, and the sense of wholeness that brings, can come from serving as well as being served...

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Doctor is Still In

The soup we serve at Manna on Main Street is usually made by volunteers. While most of the time their creations are very good, there are instances when the soup needs some attention. That is when we call on Ralph, our soup doctor. For more than 20 years Ralph has been a regular volunteer at Manna on Main Street. In his earlier years he would stop in every day and walk back to the kitchen to inspect the soup. If it needed something... more seasoning, more vegetables or a little thickening, Ralph would doctor it up.

Now in his mid-80s, Ralph comes in only a day or two each week. He spends a lot of time at home taking care of his wife. In addition he helps aging family members by driving them to doctor appointments, to the grocery store or wherever else they need to go. When Ralph does come in, he doesn't spend as much time on the soup, but he continues to doctor us with his mild, caring manner. There are times when we all need a little something... an encouraging word or a gentle pat on the back. It's good to have a doctor around.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Lizz 1

Lizz came to us in the summer of 2007 to help teach our summer cooking program. She returned the following year to lead the summer sessions again. In the fall of 2008 Lizz became a part-time employee, working under the co-op initiative for the Culinary Arts program at North Montco Technical Career Center (NMTCC). Lizz will be graduating this year and in the fall begin attending the Culinary Institute of America.

This week there was an event at the NMTCC, celebrating the students and their employers for their participation in the co-op program. Many kind words were said about the student's efforts and personal growth, and how the employers contributed to their advancement. One point not mentioned, however, was the impact the students had on the businesses they worked for. I think about what Lizz has done at Manna on Main Street; not only in performing her job responsibilities, but in the things she has taught us. A number of times we found ourselves struggling with a recurring problem, when Lizz would offer a simple, yet insightful suggestion on how to solve the dilemma. But more importantly were the significant contributions she made revolving around how she treated people - her kindness when dealing with the clients who came to eat at Manna, her helpfulness in working with the youth who came to serve, and her patience in interacting with some of the older volunteers who needed extra guidance and hand-holding.

We will miss Lizz when she moves on in the fall, but for now we celebrate her upcoming graduation and the joy she brings us each day.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wooden Nickels

Unexpected help shows up, well, unexpectedly. We received a phone call from the local Whole Foods store. They're ramping-up a program to help the environment and also nonprofit organizations. The concept revolves around eliminating plastic bags from the waste stream: if you bring in your own shopping bags, they will give you a wooden nickel for each bag. You then have a choice of donating that nickel to a couple of worthy causes.

While the wooden nickel program has been promoted in other Whole Foods locations, it is new to the Montgomeryville store. Since they are in the experimental phase and aren't certain how things will go, they randomly selected Manna on Main Street as a beneficiary (along with a new organization, the Wissahickon School District Nature Center).

Set this along side two other events taking place this weekend. A racquetball tournament to benefit Manna is taking place at Philadelphia Sports Club in Chalfont. In Lansdale, Christ United Methodist Church is holding a concert benefit for Manna. It is these seemingly random choices by various groups that keep us going. It helps reinforce the fact that we don't do this work alone; it is really the community at large that makes our outreach possible.

Friday, May 8, 2009


I thought I would make a quick dash out the back door at Manna, but my path was blocked. An elderly gentleman was in my way. He wanted to get out as well, but he was stuck - he had pushed his walker up against the door in an attempt to leave. Unfortunately, the door was too heavy, or he was too weak, and he wound up getting his walker jammed in the door. He was unable to move in either direction. I manged to reach past him and push the door open, so he was able to move slowly down the ramp. While we strive to make Manna an open and welcoming place, sometimes there are physical barriers that get in the way...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Hyde - Jekyll - Hyde

When Doug first arrived at Manna on Main Street, he was angry. He demanded satisfaction. He had been in a serious accident and was in extreme pain. Doug fully expected us to fill his prescription for pain medication. We politely, but firmly explained that we don't do narcotics. If he had other medications for antibiotics, insulin or items of that nature, we might be able to help. Doug was not pleased and stalked away.

A couple of days later Doug was back, only this time a different man. He was apologetic and repeatedly told us how sorry he was for his behavior. Was there some way we could help him with his other medications. Choking back the tears, he thanked us for being willing to give him a second chance. We told him we don't take things personally and we understand how overwhelming life can be.

Doug returned a couple days after that. He had brought in his prescriptions... for his pain medication. We explained to him again that we don't pay for narcotics. We instructed him to go home and bring back the other prescriptions and we would see what they were for, and perhaps we could cover their cost.

After he left, we weren't certain - was he trying to play us, thinking that we were soft, giving him another chance and that we would give in to his demands? Or did he just forget what we had told him a few days earlier? We try not to judge his motives, but just be consistent with whoever comes to us for aid. It can be complicated when the same individual comes in multiple times, acting each time like someone else...

Friday, April 24, 2009

I - Me - Mine

An article in the most recent issue of Newsweek caught my eye. The title was Generation Me and bemoaned that the 20-something generation today is more concerned with themselves and their own sense of self-worth than the world around them. The blame for this "epidemic" was fairly well distributed to parents, the media and the young people themselves.

I have difficulty buying-in to the premise. It certainly seems that young people today have a higher sense of self-esteem (not a bad thing), but what I see at Manna on Main Street is different. We have many young people who come in and fall over themselves in trying to serve our clients. I think about a young woman who recently graduated from a nursing program, found a job and is looking forward to when she can work second shift - so she can spend more time during the day at Manna.

Too, I have hope for the future. Wednesday evening a nine year-old girl stopped by with her parents. She had three bags of groceries with her. Instead of asking for gifts for her birthday party, she asked her friends to bring food to donate to Manna. Parties like this among young people are more and more common. I wouldn't write off this or any generation too soon...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Easy to say No

In his mid-30s, black and with a mental illness, David would hardly be the ideal "poster child" for an organization. When he is off his medication, which is pretty frequent lately, he can be scary. His rantings are often just on the edge of reality, so it can be tempting to ignore him and hope he will take his complaints somewhere else.

Still, we knew something funny was going on at his apartment. After talking with him a number of times about it, we were able to discern that he had not had running water for nearly a year. He had been hauling buckets of water up to his apartment to bath and flush the toilet. It turns out that the landlord was in foreclosure on the property and through a series of misunderstandings, the water service had been shut off. In the meantime, David had been faithfully paying his rent, hoping the situation would be resolved. He was also spending his own money to repair and renovate the apartment, and was consequently falling behind on his electric bill.

The situation finally came to a head, and David was told he would have to vacate the property; however, he didn't have any money for a security deposit or funds to pay off his past due electric bill. Even though Manna on Main Street would have to invest more than $1,000 to get David into a new apartment, we couldn't just look the other way. We are probably the only organization that could step in immediately and keep David from living on the street. We are hopeful that once he settles into his new place, he will return to his counselor and get back on his meds.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Vision and Focus

Manna on Main Street's vision is "that everyone might be fed." We focus on that each day. At the same time, we are not blinded to the fact that "feeding" people often goes beyond the realm of providing food.

Individuals who show up at a soup kitchen often have a long list of issues that are affecting them. We take the time to really listen to them and respond to those needs. At times it will lead us down a path of service that we were not envisioning. Paradoxically, those can be the times when we do the most good.

Perhaps in our own lives we can take off the blinders and broaden our vision of how we can help and serve.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Kids Helping Kids

St. Rose of Lima students in North Wales conducted a food drive for Manna on Main Street and focused their efforts on breakfast and healthy snack foods. The Student Council representatives also helped load the boxes into the cars for delivery to Manna's pantry.

Each day Manna delivers 225 healthy snacks to the local Boys & Girls Club for the kids who participate in their after-school homework program. It is because of caring neighbors (including kids) that we are able to serve so many people in need.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pennies from ...

Seems like this happens a lot. We have ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Reed Technologies, a local company that regularly sends volunteers our way, sponsored a fundraiser event named "Pot O' Copper" where employees donate loose change to help a worthy cause. Sandy Founds, who helped organize the event sent us an email that a check for $515 was on its way... no strings attached, just a message thanking us for the work we do, noting they are happy to share in the effort of serving people in need.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bob the Bread Man

We could also call him Bob the Fruit Man or Bob the Turkey Man or Bob the Beef Man. Nearly every day, Bob drives his little pickup truck from store to store picking up day-old baked goods, produce and other excess food goods. He'll also visit companies or schools who have held food drives and deliver the goods to Manna. Whenever we need something picked up, Bob is happy to take care of it for us. When Bob makes his rounds, he also stops by other agencies and organizations to share the wealth. Bob is just another example of how this community serves and helps take care of people in need.

Friday, March 13, 2009


It can sound like a harsh, uncaring act, banning someone from the services at Manna on Main Street. There were two banning instances this past week, both for the same reason: asking for money. One of the rules for our guests is that they are not permitted to ask for money, cigarettes or rides. We want Manna to be a safe place, where no one will feel intimidated or pressured to do anything. So when we learned that two individuals were asking people for money, they were told to leave.

As in most cases, these individuals were not banned permanently, only for a week. That way it gives them to opportunity to realize that at Manna they have a pretty good situation. They receive free, very good food served by caring neighbors. If they have an emergency situation, we can often help them out. Usually, when they return, the issue doesn't come up again, and they settle back into their routine of coming to us for meals. In the long run, it works for everyone.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Happy Camper

Actually, George was not a happy camper. Homeless for seven months, he had been camping out in a wooded section not too far from Manna on Main Street. Through the fall and cold winter months he would slog to Manna for a hot meal. Dealing with an addiction to alcohol, he struggled to find his way in life.

Recently, however, George has been making some progress. He managed to find a job and started saving to get into a local rooming house. Last week he came to us saying that he needed a little help with his security deposit - he didn't want to use his last dollar just getting into a place. So we made the arrangements and had a check sent to the landlord.

It was fun talking with George yesterday. He was so relieved to have a roof over his head. He talked about how good it was to lay in a warm bed; he seemed thrilled to have a mini-refrigerator to store his food; he said there was a park nearby that he could walk to. We don't know how long George will be there, but we are hopeful that he will continue along his current path. For now, he is happy...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Vintage 1990

Manna is fortunate to have a variety of helpers from many different organizations. One of our newer partnerships is with Gwynedd Mercy College. Part of the incoming freshman curriculum includes a community service component. Earlier this week, Mary, Carissa and Dan came to help with the soup kitchen.

As it approached the end of the lunch hour, most of our regulars had eaten already, so the students helped sort incoming food donations. We sometimes receive items that have expired, and as they were sorting, they came across this can of evaporated milk. To their surprise, the expiration date on the can was the year they were born - 1990.

We explained to them that people don't intentionally drop off bad food; they just don't think to look. And while we would rather not fill our dumpster with expired food, we still thank them for bringing their donation. Besides, it can be fun finding the oldest can...

Friday, February 20, 2009


... can come from any direction. One of my favorites is Vicki. She's a senior at North Penn High School and is ranked number two in her class. She leads Manna on Main Street's Youth Advisory Board, helping to draw young people into community service. She also serves on Manna's Board of Directors. In her spare time, Vicki is coauthoring a book about Manna (with 100% of the proceeds from the book being donated to our mission).

So whenever I think I'm too busy, too tired or too stressed to accomplish something, I think about Vicki, who will awake at 4:00 AM to do homework, who will attend a 2-hour meeting at Manna on a school night, who will inspire other youth to come and serve.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Life in the Slow Lane

We could call her Rosie. During World War II she was one of the original Rosie the Riveters, working in the ship yards of Philadelphia. Today, she is 93 years old and frequents Manna on Main Street to share a meal with her friends.

A number of months ago, Rosie came to the conclusion that she needed a car. Her old one stopped working and had been towed away. While she appreciated us taking her to the doctor and on miscellaneous errands, she wanted the freedom to go when and where she pleased. We had a concern that her driving skills were on the decline and were worried she could put herself in danger. So we volunteered to take her to different car dealers to help her find the right car. What she didn't know is that we would call the car dealer ahead of time and explain the situation. We had the dealer push the driver's seat all the way back so Rosie couldn't reach the pedals. The car dealer would then solemnly tell her that was all the closer the seat would go.

For a while we had a lot of success with our plan, but we were eventually foiled. Someone else took Rosie to another dealer and she bought a car. We were, however, pleasantly surprised to find that she drove very well. It takes Rosie quite a while to park her car - even longer to back out - and she motors along slowly and safely. We eventually told Rosie about our scheme. She laughed and thought it was a pretty good trick. But she said she still trusts us, knowing that we were just concerned for her well being.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The book claims...

"Here is the world's most famous master plan for seizing and holding power."

And yet within its covers I find this observation, which could seem contradictory to the claim of seizing and holding power: "a prudent man must always tread the path of great men and imitate those who have excelled."*

This could lead us in a couple of directions: judging a book by its cover or taking words out of context. For me, everything is context. The books we read, the people we meet, the situations we find ourselves in, all allow us the opportunity to provide context. We decide how to respond, how we can bring good to the surface.

At Manna, I witness it nearly every day. Too many people show up to volunteer, so we scramble to find a way to engage everyone so they have a sense of contributing. A guest arrives who has not bathed recently, and we discreetly turn on the ceiling fan and open a window. We deny financial aid to a client and they become angry; still, we tell them they are welcome to share a meal with us now and take groceries home with them.

Sometimes we stumble, but we remind ourselves that no matter what the book or situation claims, we set the context.

* from The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Friday, January 30, 2009

I refuse to

One of the blogs I regularly turn to for inspiring ideas is published by Bob Burg. In his most recent posting he included a link to a video by Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, a professional business network.

In the video, Dr. Misner tells the story of a gentleman who took a very intentional stand on how he responded to the depressed economic climate in the early 1990s. He wore a button that exclaimed, "I refuse to participate in the recession." The gentleman said it helped him focus on doing what was right and necessary to be successful in his business (real estate) rather than being consumed by the doom and gloom poured out by the media.

It made me think, are there things we could refuse to do to help us keep our eye on the real prize. Just a few possibilities...

  • I refuse to hold a grudge
  • I refuse to commiserate, gossip, or engage in any non-constructive conversation
  • I refuse to over-consume (food, electricity, gas, gadgets, the list goes on)
  • I refuse to stand idly by when I witness a wrong
  • I refuse to ____________ (you fill in the blank)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Special Soup

Nearly every week, our friends from Developmental Enterprises Corporation (DEC) in Worcester deliver homemade soups to Manna on Main Street. DEC is a place where special needs adults come together to learn basic living skills and to have a sense of belonging.

Sometimes we put people in a box, thinking that there are only certain things they are capable of accomplishing. Time and again, the caring people at DEC have made an impact on the community by sharing their gifts and helping us provide service to other people in need.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Packed In

Last Saturday it was packed with both food and Cub Scouts. Specifically, Cub Pack 152, visited Manna on Main Street to sort food. As Liz would say (she's our director of volunteers) it's crazy-fun when we have a large group show up to do a service project. Our space is very small, so when 17 preadolescent boys and 20 family members arrived to help, we crammed some in the basement, and sent contingents outside to shovel the sidewalk and sort food in our outside storage area. While it can be challenging finding constructive work for everyone, we find that having the kids here has a lasting impression on them. Maybe it's because they get to sign the wall when they're finished or because they had so much fun being here. Perhaps too, they felt like they made a difference.

Friday, January 9, 2009


We received the call at 2:00 AM from the local police. A woman in her late 20s had been released from the hospital and needed a place to stay for the evening. We'll call her Angie.

The officer took Angie to a nearby motel where we have an arrangement for people who are homeless. I called her in the mid-morning, knowing that check-out time was 11:00, wanting to learn more about her situation and what we might need to do to help move her along. When she answered the phone, it took only a few seconds to recognize the emptiness. Angie wasn't sure what she was going to do; maybe get in touch with a friend from ten years ago who could put her up. While we were talking, the police showed up and she said they would take care of things, and Angie hung up. I thought we had heard the last of her.

Not an hour later, the phone rang. It was Angie. She wasn't able to get her things together in time for the police to take her to the train station. It was raining miserably hard, so I told her we would come pick her and bring her back to Manna so she could eat, then help move her along.

When picking up a stranger, especially a woman, I take someone with me, so Liz Coyne, our director of volunteers drove our van to the motel. When Angie came down to the office, that same vagueness of purpose was with her. She had found an umbrella and wasn't sure if she should leave it at the motel or take it along. While it was obviously pouring, Angie commented that it wasn't raining where we stood under the the roofed entryway.

As we drove back to Manna, the comments from Angie were scattered: where could she get a cigarette; she used to play softball, naming the different positions; had last lived in New Jersey; she could really drink a Yuengling right now (Liz smilingly commented that we weren't serving that at Manna today - it would be vegetable soup and chicken pot-pie).

Back at Manna, Angie made friendly conversation with the volunteers and looked in the refrigerators. I called her into the office to ask her again what her plans were. Angie thanked us for the night in the motel, said she loved us. I thought she looked like a child, sipping on her hot chocolate; if she continues on the path she is traveling, in five years she will age fifteen. She never really answered the question.

We told her to come back for the 4:00 meal. She asked if we could call her cell phone and remind her, in case she forgot or got lost. Somehow we never got the number. After eating, Angie got up to leave for the train station, needing help figuring out how to open the umbrella. She didn't come back that afternoon.