Nonprofit Edition: MANNA FoodBank
MANNA FoodBank is the foundation of much of our local hunger relief efforts, distributing to more than 200 community based food assistance agencies across the region, even in the best of times. As the needs of our community increased with COVID, so did MANNA’s response, delivering 1.7 million meals-worth of food since mid-March.
Q: Tell us a bit about how MANNA adapted to COVID in the early days of the pandemic, and how those adaptations have evolved in the past two to three months.
Kara Irani: MANNA immediately went into disaster relief response mode when the pandemic began with changes to daily operations at every level. Our first step was to put regular cleaning and sanitizing protocols in place to keep our staff, volunteers, and partners safe, as well as PPE requirements for anyone entering the building. With many of our regular food donors’ supply chains locked up, we shifted to sourcing and preparing food boxes to minimize in-person interaction at food distributions. We limited volunteers in the warehouse and have implemented social distance and hand washing measures. We closed the partner shopping floor space and moved to low-contact food deliveries and pick-ups. The majority of our food partners went to low- and no-contact food distributions, moving away from our preferred “client choice” method of open farmer’s market-style food distributions and toward simple, drive-through food box pick-ups. These changes put in place in mid-March have served our community well—especially with the huge increase in the number of people we and our partners are now serving—and have needed little adaptation since. But MANNA is a nimble, response-driven organization, and will continue to respond accordingly to best meet the needs of our community and meet our mission.
Q: Food security is always a crucial initiative, but even more so in this era. How has MANNA reacted to the needs of our community in terms of access to food?
KI: Our focus continues to be sourcing and distributing the food needed in our region right now. As we saw the need spike in the first weeks of the pandemic through increased calls to our Food Helpline and with more people coming to our partners distributions than ever before, we put our food sourcing efforts into high gear to ensure that we can keep the food inventory our region needs flowing in and be there for anyone who needs us. We increased the number of mobile pantry markets and the size of average food deliveries to our partners. In general, all of our programs continue but have been amplified in response to the increased need, with more food than ever moving through each avenue to meet the need across the 16 counties we serve in WNC.
Photos courtesy of MANNA FoodBank
Q: What has been the impact of those reactions?
KI: Since mid-March, our food distribution has increased by over 25% (conservative estimate), even with MANNA distributing record amounts of food year-over-year. In April alone, we distributed over 2.1 million pounds, which equates to over 1.7 million meals-worth of food delivered to people across WNC.
Q: Do you anticipate these adaptations will be incorporated into programming moving forward?
KI: As we have only deepened the existing programs that were already in place at MANNA, we will continue as we have, working with our strong network of nonprofit partners and dedicated volunteers to increase food access for people facing hunger.
This year, we were faced with the hard decision to cancel our largest fundraising event of the year: our beloved Blue Jean Ball. We have created a fundraising campaign to help raise the much-needed support this event would normally provide, and this campaign, called MANNAfesting Hope, will launch publicly later this week. We are calling the campaign MANNAfesting Hope because we have seen our community come forward in such a powerful and compassionate way since March that we are filled with hope for what we can all accomplish together. The action around supporting our friends and neighbors is inspiring and creates so many moments of hope for the people we are serving—much needed hope that we all could use.