Monday, December 12, 2011

Leaving and Staying

You may have heard that Manna on Main Street will be moving from its current location. In a few months we're planning to vacate our 28-year home at 514 W. Main Street to Lansdale, and move to a larger facility at 713 W. Main Street in Lansdale.

Here are just a few thoughts on those components of leaving and staying:

Leaving - Clients waiting outside, not having access to a bathroom, poor access for the disabled

Staying - Caring volunteers, service above self, a welcoming place where everyone is fed...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Small Moments

For the past few weeks, Manna has enjoyed the help of an intern (we’ll call her Megan) from a local college. Megan’s studies are focused on a career in business, but she helped work on our Christmas gift program for kids.

In one of her conversations with Kristyn, Manna’s development associate, Megan was asking questions about the people that come to us for help, their life situations and the realities they face.

After more listening and more questions, it was like the flood gates opened for her – in that moment Megan came to realize how difficult life can be for others and the limited options they have.

Even though she came to Manna with a mindset for business, she will be leaving with a different perspective on the world. Like many that come through our doors, she will probably never be the same…

Monday, November 28, 2011

Still Learning

Considering Manna on Main Street's 30 years of service to the community, there could be the temptation to say that we have this all figured out. That we know people's needs, how to respond, how to best serve.

The truth is, we will never have this fully sorted out, because people's needs continue to evolve. Some of the things we did years ago (pre-packing bags of food for families, for example) would not work today, because we know they need the dignity of choice.

In fact we need to do more listening, try more innovative ways of reaching out to positively impact people's lives. While we ask more from our clients what they think, we also need to hear from you.

How do you think we can serve, do more...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Know Thanks

You may not see it, but we witness it every day.

Good people, in need, coming to the table, thanking us as they leave, filled.

Good people, in abundance, bringing food to the table, we thank them as they leave, filled.

Yes, we know thanks...

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Working Poor

Creative, innovative, savvy.

These are not typical words to describe the poor, but it is a common trait of people in need. Their resources are limited, sometimes fleeting, and they must be quick thinking to survive day-to-day.

As we see more and more people coming through our doors, we continue to be impressed how individuals continue to live on limited or no income, how they press on with a fragmented support network, how they continue to persevere.

The poor work very hard indeed, even more so when they have no job...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Going Green (and Red and Orange and Brown)

Manna has certainly made efforts to be as “green” as possible. We recycle tons of cardboard and plastic, and have moved from using Styrofoam soup bowls to those made of biodegradable cardboard. When we eventually move to a new location, there will be the opportunity to utilize real plates and flatware that can be washed and reused, but more on that later.

How we would really like to make ourselves greener (and other earth colors) is in the food we provide to the families that shop at Manna. We are looking to offer more fresh produce. In particular, for our Thanksgiving basket distribution, we are planning to give out bags of apples, potatoes, carrots and oranges to each of the households that receives a basket (estimated at 175).

If you are interested in helping in this effort, please give us a call and let us know what you can share…

Monday, October 31, 2011

Silent Sirens

If you walk down any Main Street and see an ambulance racing by, sirens blaring, you have a pretty good idea that some type of crisis is playing out. Perhaps there’s an accident nearby, or an individual at home has fallen seriously ill. The noise, the flashing lights are a warning, indicators of on-setting calamity.

If you walk the hallway of Manna on Main Street, the sirens are silent, and yet equally real. Individuals and families are in crisis, desperate for food, jobs, health care. But you can’t always tell from the surface. People continue to struggle on their own, and it’s only when we engage them, heart to heart, that we learn their life stories, and hopefully help guide them along to a better place…

Monday, October 24, 2011

Looking After Family

For better or worse, we do not get to choose our family members, save for our spouse. Sometimes the dynamics are very positive, and other times relationships may not be ideal; but, in the end, family sticks together and looks out for each other.

So it is with the Manna family, those that gather around our dining table each day. Some very good friendships have evolved over the years, and there are some instances where it is best when certain people don’t sit together.

What is heartening is how they all look out for each other. If an individual doesn’t show up to eat for a few days, the word gets out. Family members will comb the streets looking for the lost loved one. Volunteers and Manna staff members become part of the family as well, showing concern for each person’s well-being.

Though most of Manna’s family would choose not to be there, they know that there is always someone there to look after them, to make sure they are fed…

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Out of Control

On the surface, life at Manna can appear hectic. If you were to observe the action over the next few weeks (actually until the New Year), you might think things are out of control. Phones are ringing, people are constantly streaming in, asking for help, looking to volunteer, and food donations are piling up in the hallway.

While we strive to have systems in place to accommodate people’s needs and maintain operational processes, we understand that service to others can be messy, chaotic, and not always follow a script or plan. What matters is how we treat people, how we engage them, showing them that no matter who they are, not matter their life standing, that there is a place for them at Manna, here, in our community…

Monday, October 10, 2011

Small-Big Picture

Have you ever tried to take a photograph of a tight space, perhaps a room. Often it’s impossible to capture a small space and represent what it is like. The same could be said for trying to take a picture of an expansive blue sky, one filled with wispy clouds and the billowy trails of jets gone by. It's just too big to grasp without actually seeing it.

So it could be said of Manna: the space, the rooms are so small, it can be difficult for a picture to demonstrate its size. And too, the caring, the impact, is so huge, the only way to truly appreciate it, is to experience it…

Monday, October 3, 2011

Getting Put in my Place

It would have been easy enough to feel self-important.

I attended three different community events this past weekend. Two of them were fundraisers put on by supporters of Manna: the Merck Federal Credit Union and Villari’s Self Defense Center. Between the two organizations, they raised over $20,000. Feeling pretty proud of the relationships I had developed, I moved on to the Lansdale Octoberfest. There I was warmly greeted by a number of prominent community members.

While standing there, Mayor Andy Szekely asked if I would help judge the pie-eating contest. After trading a few jokes about the importance of the position, I walked over to the table of contestants. There were about 20 kids sitting there with their hands behind their back, excited with the messy prospect of eating chocolate cream pie. One person at the table, however, was not a child, but a young man who I recognized as being a frequent guest at Manna. He sat there with dull eyes as his pie was set before him.

The mayor called out for the eating to begin, and after just a couple of minutes a young boy was declared the winner. Moms and dads rushed forward to congratulate their kids and help them get cleaned up, but the young man at the table lingered. I walked up to him and mentioned he had quite a bit of chocolate on his face, and that he might want to get a napkin. He noted with concern that his stuff, a backpack and jacket, were there on the ground and he didn’t want to leave them there unattended. I said I would watch his things and so he went off in search of a napkin. After wandering around a while, a woman noticed him, handed him a napkin and he came back wiping off his mouth. He wasn’t doing a very good job. There was still chocolate on his nose and chin. I took the napkin from him and began wiping him clean.

It struck me that what I was doing right then was the most important thing I had done the entire weekend, possibly the entire year. Here was a young man, and yet a child in need of simple care – wiping his face clean – so he could move on in the day, feel looked after, cared for, with a sense of self-dignity. Perhaps I’m reading too much into how he might have felt, but I know what was stirring inside of me: what makes us important is not who we are, but how we respond to the call of serving, especially to the little ones, no matter what they look like, no matter their age, no matter their standing…

Monday, September 26, 2011

Giving Up

For some of the folks that come to Manna on Main Street, giving up is their only option. The rent is three months past due, the electric is turned off and the unemployment has run out. They've exhausted their family's resources and there is nowhere else to turn to.

Our task then, is to also give up, but in a different context. We give up by giving more; increasing our caring, looking for other opportunities to alleviate the suffering. We have resources, food, income, a support network, but most importantly we have a choice. Something the little ones of this earth do not have...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Enough for Today

As many people know, the origin of manna can be found in a story from the Bible. One of the characteristics of the manna, the bread from heaven, was that it was to be enough for the day, not something to be stored up for the future.

That principle applies to this Manna, the one on Main Street, as well. We do not always know about our future, where all the food will come from, what kind of support we will receive to pay our bills and provide aid to those we serve. But that’s good enough for us. We know that for today, we are here. We have faith in this community that we will be here for tomorrow.

That faith has carried us for nearly 30 years, and prayerfully, for many years to come…

Monday, September 12, 2011


More and more. That's the best way to describe it. More and more people coming to us with impossible situations.

Just a couple of weeks ago a woman called. Her husband was ill and unable to work. She was unemployed, the home was in foreclosure, the car insurance had expired and they had no food in the house. There was no possible means for Manna to dig them out of this deep hole, and she knew that. Still, she called, as others do, to share their story.

What they are seeking is not so much a solution to their problems: they hunger for a sympathetic ear, advise on next steps, what they might expect, what options they have.

We provide a non-judgmental ear, offer them food, direct them to other resources. But mostly we show them we care. Often it's not enough, but it greater than zero...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Significant Storm Damage

It is not usually the likes of a Hurricane Irene that wreak havoc on the lives of those that come to Manna on Main Street; it is the everyday, unexpected events that can pile up and do the most damage.

I think of a woman who called us a few weeks ago. Her husband was ill, their home was in foreclosure, their electric had been shut off, they had no income, no car and no food. For someone with those significant challenges, there would seem to be no hope at all. While we were not able to help with all of their issues, there are some simple things we did do: we provided them with food, made them aware of other resources available, and perhaps most importantly we listened to them.

Sometimes just having someone to talk to, someone you can trust, can offer hope and relief, even in the midst of the most severe storms...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sowing and Reaping

As we begin to wind down on our summer Vegetable Basket Program, we remind ourselves that the fresh produce we enjoyed over the past seven weeks or so, was because of the hard work that was invested many months ago. The hundreds of pounds of tomatoes, zucchini, cantaloupes, string beans and corn that was given to families in need, was because of the commitment of care made when the ground was empty. We prepare now for another season, anticipating the harvest to come, knowing that same sense of caring is still with us...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Rescuing Chickens

It happened this past Friday and the Friday before. We received a phone call from a random trucker. Seems he had some left-over cases of chicken from a grocery store delivery; he wanted to know if we could pick them up. In both instances, all we had to do was drive to Versacold (the cold storage facility in Hatfield), help unload the truck and bring the goods back to Manna. The haul from both deliveries was nearly 1,000 pounds of top-quality chicken.

To a large food distributor, the amount of food was trivial. It would have been just as simple to throw it in the dumpster. But what we find in the midst of large corporations is that there are caring individuals; people that will go out of their way to help out, to make a difference. We can decry the insensitivity of big business, and all too readily forget that they are made up of decent folks like most of us...

Monday, August 8, 2011

The $5 million gift

Manna on Main Street received an incredible gift last week, with the accompanying note:

To All the Good People at Manna on Main St.

Please accept this small gift along with my apology for the meager amount. I would like to help your cause more than this as I truly believe in you. However, I also, like so many these days, have been out of work since March/April of 2009. I have often thought of you for help in getting by, but thankfully have managed on my own thus far. After all, there are always people in far worse conditions than oneself. However, the important thing is knowing you are there, for all, any time. That in itself is reassurance which I cannot convey in words.

Thank you for being there.


There was a crumbled $5 bill in the envelope; a fortune...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Digital Meals

There can be the temptation for organizations to look to technology for answers in how to improve the delivery of their services. More foundations are asking nonprofits to become more sophisticated, and employ technology as a means to impact their operations.

We do take a serious look at the various tools available in which to streamline, to do things more efficiently and reduce costs. At the same time, by our nature, we are a very high-touch organization. At the core of what we do is feed people:
  • We set the plate before them
  • We engage them face to face
  • We listen to their stories; lives of frustration and hope
  • We encourage them, cheer them on
Sometimes, the low-tech, human touch is the ultimate in sophistication...

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Contradictions of Manna

It can be complicated, serving a diverse community. Individuals and families come to Manna with a variety of wants and needs, and contradictions are apparent by the very nature of our works...
  • excluded = welcomed: many who sit at our table feel left out by society at large, but everyone that comes is greeted as an honored guest
  • poor = rich: our guests are far removed from material wealth, but enjoy the bounty of caring neighbors and friends
  • hungry = fed: not only the food fills them, but words of encouragement and hope nourish them for the day
It can be complicated, and yet very simple...

Monday, July 18, 2011

What's Left Behind

As part of looking back at the last 30 years of Manna's life, we reflect upon the vision and legacy of those that came before us:
  • Love for neighbors
  • Encouragement for the down-trodden
  • Service above self
Now we get to decide. What will we leave behind...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Wasted Welcomes

Bobby walks in the door of Manna for the early meal. His eyes have a far-away look, and when we greet him he doesn't respond. Bobby goes through peaks and valleys with his mental illness. Sometimes he's responsive and will share pieces of his life. Other times he shuts down, indicating that he needs to be left alone.

We never know how Bobby will be feeling, but we continue to welcome him in the same opening manner. Some would argue that we're wasting our time with the likes Bobby. Even though most of the folks that come to Manna are friendly and open, he and others like him can be distant and at times off-putting.

We continually remind ourselves, however, that every day there is the opportunity to break through, to show people that we care, to demonstrate to them that we are here for them, for the long haul, no matter what...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Small Impact

Manna's Summer Cooking Program for Teens began last week, with an average of eight students attending the classes. Three days a week they have the opportunity to learn about healthy cooking and help perform a vital community service by preparing meals for the people we serve.

Immediately, one teen (we'll call her Katie), stands out from the others. It is her third year of participating in the class. She does more then participate, however: she takes ownership. Katie actively engages with the other students and to a degree helps lead the class. When other students are heading for the door, she is helping to transport the meals from the church kitchen over to Manna.

Some may wonder about the impact of the program; eight to ten students a day, many of them attending multiple classes, perhaps 50 in total involved over the summer. Rather than being possessed with increasing the number of students, we focus instead on the difference it makes on those that attend.

Even if we change only one person's life, isn't that enough...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Healing and Cures

July 1st will mark my 12th year as Manna's executive director. Looking back over that time period, I reflect not so much on what we have done as an organization, but on the people we serve. For many of the them, this year is no different than 12 years ago; and the same could be said for their foreseeable future.

All they want is a decent job, good health, strong relationships. Insted, there is the frustration of living on the edge, hoping those things will come about. In the midst of that, Manna is there for them; providing a friendly place for them to come to, a means for the basics of food, and emergency help when the crises come about.

Often, we do not have a cure; but healing is always a possibility...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ignoring the Balloons

As Manna on Main Street thinks about and prepares for our 30th Anniversary celebration, we take care to remind ourselves why we celebrate:
  • We celebrate the vision and dedication of those that came before us, those that laid the foundation for this important work.
  • We celebrate our commitment to humbly serve.
  • We celebrate with gratitude the wonderful support of this community.
  • We celebrate those that come to be fed every day, those that will arrive tomorrow.
Yes, the balloons are pretty; we focus on what lies beyond...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Still Crazy

As Manna begins celebrating the arrival of our 30th anniversary (more details on our web site) we look back to consider our beginning. We think about our founding and consider that at the time, creating a soup kitchen in Lansdale may have seemed like a crazy idea. Soup kitchens were considered a relic, a stigma from the depression era, something relegated to large cities. Getting started was not easy. There was resistance from some myopic community members, but the thoughtful leaders of Manna persevered.

Over the years Manna earned a solid reputation for humility and service, and because of a generous community was able to grow and meet other emerging needs; needs like emergency funding for shelter, utilities and medical costs. Outreach and community involvement was broadened, including all ages, faiths and points of view.

As we look to our future, we envision the expansion of our outreach to a larger geographic area, and becoming more involved in gaining access to food for people in need. There are those that may consider us crazy in trying to do more, but we see the needs continuing to grow and believe we can help alleviate some of the suffering around us.

We are hopeful that you will continue with us on this crazy journey of service, and dreaming with us of the possibilities for the next 30 years…

Monday, June 6, 2011

Faiths Work

One of the real strengths of Manna's outreach and service is the involvement of people of many faiths. Individuals travel from their Church, Mosque, Synagogue, Temple to reach out and serve people in need. They bring food, diapers and financial gifts to lift up those who are suffering.

A popular adage from one faith group is "It's the Christian thing to do." It could be equally said, "It's the Muslim thing to do, the Jewish thing to do, the Bahá'í thing to do, the Buddhist thing to do..."

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


You may have seen the “easy” button used in the advertisements of an office supply store. The implication is that good things can happen at the push of a button.

Some might think that Manna has access to an easy button. For example, when demand for our food pantry increased by 20% we easily responded to the need. When 45 people show up for a meal, instead of the average 35, everyone is easily fed. When a struggling family on the verge of being homeless comes for aid, we easily write a check to cover their mortgage.

Anything is "easy", when you have the support of a caring community, and the heart to respond…

Monday, May 23, 2011

Following the Need

Now in her 30s, Megan remembers growing up with Manna. Her parents had separated and her mom often came to shop for groceries. Megan fondly looks back at the holidays of her youth, remembering it was Manna that provided her Christmas gifts. Megan grew up, eventually married, started a family and began giving back to Manna, organizing food drives a couple times a year.

But now her family has hit a bump in the road. Last week she stopped in to sign up to receive food. Her husband was laid off, and while he found another job, the pay is very low and does not include health benefits. It was really difficult for Megan to come in, but she has a family to feed and not very many options. As she left with groceries, and diapers for her youngest child, we encouraged her to take heart; in a few years she would be back again, on the other side, giving back, lifting up and caring for another family. As things are, we know there will be others coming along behind her...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Silent Supporters

When you walk into Manna on Main Street, it is best to open the door slowly... chances are that a volunteer will be coming down the hallway with a plate of food, or a client will be standing there asking for information. It’s possible too, that boxes of diapers will be stacked up nearby or that recently donated bags of food will be lying on the floor. At times it can be a challenge, finding a place for things and having a smooth flow of traffic and goods. In spite of that, none of the clients complain about the difficulty in moving about – even the woman on crutches is patient and understanding, knowing that we are doing the best we can with what we have. We continue to be grateful for those we serve and how they gracefully support our work…

Monday, May 9, 2011

Surf and Turf

You might expect that if surf and turf were to appear on the menu at Manna on Main Street, it would consist of fish sticks and hamburgers. That was definitely not the case yesterday, as Barry (our Chef and Food Service Manager) prepared a seven course meal including shrimp and Filet Mignon. It was a special occasion for two of our clients, as they were the winners of our April raffle, Dinner With the Mayor (thanks Mayor Andy Szekely for being there). Every few months we have a contest to celebrate our guests; it's a way for us all to have some fun and make them feel special.

It can be easy to lose track of how difficult life can be, day after day, for many of our clients. They show up for a meal, then go on their way. Every so often it's good for them to feel like maybe they'll be the lucky one, win a prize, and feel lifted up, even if it's only for a day...

Monday, May 2, 2011

What Is This?

People will often ask, what is the origin of Manna’s name. Actually, it comes from the Bible, and refers to the manna, the “bread from heaven” that God sent to the Israelites as they were wandering through the desert. The word manna, translated literally is, “what is this.” To the Israelites it was a wonder, a confounding gift given to them, something difficult to comprehend.

So it is with Manna on Main Street, now 30 years old; people still asking, what is this…

Monday, April 25, 2011

Loaves and People

It could be said that bread and people are at the very core of what Manna is all about. Every day, bread is delivered. It comes from grocery stores (Giant, Acme, Genuardi) and from specialty shops like Panera and the Hearth Bakery. The bread is mostly leftovers - what the stores could not sell that day; items near their expiration date. Still, the bread is very good, and we see it as giving the bread a second chance, the opportunity to feed someone rather than winding up in a dumpster.

As for the individuals that come to Manna, they come from all walks of life: working poor, elderly, homeless, and some just barely holding on. I'm reminded of a woman that came to us years ago, just out of a rehab clinic. She had battled drugs for most of her life and was finally on the way to making herself whole. She came for bread, then eventually, bags of groceries. She was difficult to deal with, but we worked with her. To some, it might have seemed like a waste, spending so much time and energy on someone with obvious problems. But just like we take in the unwanted bread, so it is that we take in people, providing them a second chance...

Monday, April 18, 2011


In the book The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb explores the concept of unusual events, outliers in history that have changed the world. Interestingly, the subtitle to the book is The Impact of the Highly Improbable, in that many of these events were never really predicted or expected.

To a large degree, that subtitle captures the essence of Manna. When we were founded 30 years ago, it was highly improbable that a soup kitchen and food cupboard could come to be such an important part of this small town. And yet, here we are, still serving people in need, still supported by an incredible band of community helpers. Back then, highly improbable, totally unexpected; but today, a part of who we are...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mostly Hidden

Most of what goes on in an organization like Manna on Main Street is pretty much hidden from the general public. While folks may read about Manna in the newspaper, look at our website or read this blog, most of the elements that lead to our success are hidden from the masses. What is not seen?

  • An energetic, engaged board of directors
  • A competent staff
  • Caring volunteers that show up to serve
  • Hundreds of supporters that provide food and financial help
  • Agency partners that share resources and ideas
The list goes on and on. While we appreciate the publicity, the features in the paper and notoriety on the web, we acknowledge that there are literally thousands of individuals that make this work possible; good people, mostly hidden...

Monday, April 4, 2011


30 years is a long time to remember. And yet that is what Manna on Main Street will be contemplating.

This year we celebrate 30 years of service to the community. The actual anniversary date is September 28, 2011, and there will be a number of special activities and events leading up to that date. But before we become consumed with the festivities surrounding our anniversary, it seems appropriate to remember why we were founded and why we are still here today.

30 years ago there were people in need. They needed food: hot meals and groceries they could take home to their families. The needed financial help as well... assistance with their rent payments, their utilities, medical care. The government had a handful of programs in place, but the structure and bureaucracy proved inadequate in responding to the needs.

Much of that remains true today. And while there are more social service agencies available to help than there were 30 years ago, the needs have continued to grow. People continue to hurt, and they need a place to come to where they will be treated with dignity and respect.

Yes, we look forward to celebrating 30 years, and we will be asking the community to join in the festivities. But first, we remember, rededicate ourselves, and look with hope to the future...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Coordinated Help

It was a little after 9:00 am on Saturday that the phone call came in. It was from the Lansdale borough office. The Stanbridge Apartments were on fire, and the lobby of the borough building was filling up with people displaced by the fire. While Manna was not equipped to handle a situation of this magnitude alone, we were able to help the borough take the necessary first steps. The Red Cross, which would be a first-responder to the emergency, would need a call from a borough official to take action. We provided the borough with the number, then contacted a local response team to make arrangements for a place to gather all the individuals affected by the fire.

Arrangements were made to take everyone to Trinity Lutheran Church, where the Red Cross could meet with them. Manna had food and drinks delivered to the church, and by the end of the day, the Red Cross had made accommodations at local hotels so that the people in need had a place to stay for the next few days. Over the coming days we will work with the Stanbridge Apartments and the households displaced by the fire to provide additional guidance.

While a fire and families displaced is far from an ideal situation, it was encouraging to see how the community and various organizations came together in a time of need...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Surface Tension

She came in during the evening for the food pantry. We'll call her Mary.

As part of the check-in process we looked up her record to see if she was receiving all the help possible. According to our system, Mary was 32 years old. She had recently separated from her husband and had custody of the three children. It wasn't clear if she was receiving food stamps (now called SNAP) so we asked Mary, and she said no she wasn't receiving the aid, but she could really use the extra help and could we look into making the connection for her.

When Mary lifted her head to say thank you, she had the look on her face that we've seen so many times before... this quiet fear, just below the surface. She knew that she was in a difficult situation. If she were to lose her job, have a major illness or even a significant car repair bill, life for her and her children could become almost unlivable.

With many of the good people that come to Manna for help, that surface tension is very real. At times it's difficult for us to discern; people are proud and don't want to be a burden to others. They want to be able to make it on their own. Sometimes, it's just hard...

Monday, March 14, 2011


It's a routine for Bud, Sam and Hank (not their real names). They come in to Manna each day, twice a day, for a meal. While they are served the same food, each of them is filled in a different way. Bud is outgoing, telling his life stories, joking with volunteers and other guests. Sam will contribute to a conversation on occasion, while Hank is content to just eat and then leave. We don't pressure anyone to interact, but try to make them feel welcome, like they're at home. We recognize that home means different things to different people...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Voices from the Crowd

Sometimes, passing a microphone around in a crowd can be a scary proposition. One never knows what a person might say and how long it will take them to say it. This past weekend held a pleasant surprise. It was during a faith-based service at a local retirement community. She was an elderly woman and wanted to share her experience in dealing with Manna. "I think about Manna as a Miracle on Main Street. It was a miracle that they fed me and helped me with my rent until I could get into a place I could afford on my own. I am blessed to be where I am now, but I don't know where I would be today without Manna..."

Later she commented that she was nervous about standing up in front of everyone, but she felt she owed it to Manna, to the community, so that everyone knew how her life had been changed...

Monday, February 28, 2011

Not looking ahead

An important part of what the staff and board of directors do at Manna is to look out over an extended time horizon. We ask a lot of questions about how can we better serve the community next year and in the years to come:
  • Are there emerging needs that are not entirely visible
  • How are the demographics in our region evolving
  • How might changes in government and other agencies influence what we do

As we concentrate on the long view, we ask our daily volunteers to help in another area: focus intently on the needs of the day. We ask them to make that extra effort to be gentle, supportive and generous as the people come in to eat or to take home groceries to their families. Though they may hunger for food, we feed their souls as well.

Indeed, looking to the future is very important, and we plan carefully for the years ahead. At the same time, tending to today is critical, because for many of the people we serve, today is all they are able to deal with...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Down the drain

It can drive our young volunteers crazy. A donation of soda comes in to Manna, and they ask what to do with it. We instruct them to take it back to the kitchen and pour it down the drain. They protest:

- It' still good
- Why waste it
- I'll take it home

We then explain that part of our mission is to provide healthy choices for our guests (and our volunteers). And while our diners may choose to consume soda and other unhealthy items on their own, we want to show them that we care about their well being. It also demonstrates our conviction to nudge our clients toward making sensible choices when it comes to their diet...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Stowe Away

The total time invested was about 20 minutes. A young woman arrived at Manna, someone we had not seen before, and she looked troubled. We learned that she had hitch-hiked her way from Florida, with the destination being New York city. She was traveling with a male companion that had become abusive. All she wanted to do was to get back home, but she didn't know how she would be able to get away without him knowing.

Our case manager, Nadja, worked quickly. She talked with Barry, our food service manager and the two of them whisked the girl out to Manna's van. Not wanting to be seen, the girl lay on the van's floor while she was driven to the train station. As they arrived at the station, the train was about to depart, so Barry stalled them long enough for Nadja to buy a ticket and rush the girl onto the train. Already, Nadja had made arrangements with another social service organization in Philadelphia to assure that the girl would find her way to her home in Florida.

Many things, often unseen, happen in the midst of our days...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Our Kids

Some people are incredulous when they learn that every school day, we send 200 healthy snacks to the Boys & Girls Clubs in Lansdale and Souderton. The Club has an after-school homework program for disadvantaged youth. The kids arrive at The Club hungry after a long day of school, their lunch period long forgotten. They need a little energy boost to concentrate on their school work and so that's what we provide them.

More than one person has asked why we spend our own money to prepare food that supports another agency's program. They miss the point. We're not supporting programs, we're feeding kids in need. Just because the children wind up at a different facility doesn't change the reality that they're still our kids...

Monday, January 31, 2011

no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, yes

That's about the ratio - 8 nos for every 1 yes. On average, we receive about 100 requests for financial help each month, and the dominating response is no. The reasons are varied:

  • no, you're outside our service area
  • no, we're temporarily out of funding
  • no, we don't cover car repair bills
  • no, you didn't tell us the truth about your finances
  • no, even if we pay all you bills now, next month you will be in the same situation
It is frustrating for the those that come for help. For the most part, their needs are genuine, and we are often their last hope for support. For us, it is especially difficult denying them aid for necessary items like heating oil, knowing it's not a luxury item, but a matter of staying warm. Still, we are all thankful for the times we can say yes...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Who is Filled?

When someone in need is served a meal, who benefits... the one serving or the one being served.

Certainly the person receiving the meal is grateful. For many of the people that find their way to Manna, the food they receive is their primary meal for the day. Without us, they may not starve, but they would undoubtedly suffer.

But for the more than 1,500 volunteers that come through our doors, it could be argued that they are the ones most satisfied by the experience. The joy of making someone's day brighter is powerful, not just in providing a meal, but in sharing a word of encouragement or leading the way to laughter. Volunteers often wait for months, just to have the opportunity to serve.

At the end of each day, everyone is filled...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Back to the Routine

Life at Manna has returned to normal (the term normal difficult to define).

Only a few weeks ago it was:
  • gathering food for holiday baskets
  • coordinating parties and events
  • distributing Christmas gifts
Today, a typical day includes:
  • arriving early to put on the soup and meal
  • scheduling and training volunteers that want to serve
  • fielding phone calls
For the people we serve, it is also a return to their "normal":
  • thinking about food for the next meal
  • ignoring the thermostat, because they're out of oil
  • wondering if the prescription will ever be filled
The new normal is often easier for us. Less running around, consuming less food, simplifying our lives. For those in need, no necessarily so...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Unwrapping Gifts

Over the holidays, you may have had the experience of watching the opening of gifts. There are probably a numbers of ways to go about it, but with a child, there's usually just one way: tearing madly to find what is hidden beneath the wrapping.

As we move into the gift that is the New Year, we proceed with the same energy, the same excitement, tearing away the wrapping to discover what lies beneath, with the hope of finding new ways to grow in serving our community...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Body Shop

- A light dusting of snow covered the ice; the car slid across the road and hit a tree

- Distracted by the argument with a loved one, she didn't see the stop sign...

- He normally looks left and right, but was exhausted from the day's work; it was too late before he spotted the small pickup truck

And so the body shop is in business. Nature exerts it's influence, people make mistakes, and someone needs to make the repairs. This is not to discount the need for formal driver training or safety instruction, it is just the reality of the world we live in. Thankfully we have body shops.

It makes me think about the role on Manna. To a large degree, we are like a body shop. Things happen to people, sometimes beyond their control, other times well within their span of influence. No matter. When they hit a patch of ice, have life difficulties or just make poor decisions, we are there to help them.

We too, are all for preparedness, for taking responsibility for our lives, and giving people tools to plan for their future.

Still, there is always a need for a body shop...