Need is higher in the summer and Manna Food Bank’s stock is thin. Manna’s Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, Jay Clarkson said there are 106,000 people in Western North Carolina who are food insecure.
“We supply enough food for approximately 20,000 meals a day,” Clarkson said.
With children out of school during the summer, Manna Food Bank helps fill the school lunch gap for children. Yet with people on vacation, or simple busy with other things, Manna’s donations typically decline during this time of year. Clarkson said this is normal, but it still makes the charity’s organizers nervous.
Clarkson said though people responded strongly in the early part of the recession, there has been a recent decline in federal and state funds. Ad to that the fact that 72 percent of their partner agencies have seen an increase in need, this summer is looking thin for the charity.
“We know there is a gap between need and supply,” Clarkson said.
A 14 million dollar charity (including the value of the food), Manna Food Bank is now one of the larger charities in Western North Carolina. According to Clarkson, they started 30 years ago in the basement of Elida Home.
“We distributed 40,000 pounds of food that first year,” Clarkson said. “This year we distributed 10.5 million pounds.”
With 38 full time employees, transport trucks, and two large warehouses on Swannanoa River Road, Manna uses only 6.4 percent of their approximate $4 million annual cash intake for administration and fund raising costs. The balance of their cash donations helps purchase food.
Manna receives donations from individuals, churches and corporations. Though most of their donations are non-perishables, currently 20 percent of their distribution is now fresh produce. The produce is a challenge because it requires very fast turn around.
Manna is part of the National Feeding America Network which opens opportunities for corporate donations such as the frozen meat they receive from Walmart. Manna is also one of only two food banks in the country to operate a product reclaim center for Ingles stores. Clarkson explained Ingles sends scratched and dented items to Manna, which in turn sorts the items to be returned, disposed of or donated.
“Last year we received a million pounds of food through this program,” he said.
Manna works with 231 partner agencies such as Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, churches and other groups through which they distribute the food. Many of the agencies come to Manna to select and pick up what they need. Others such as distant counties on the Tennessee border, order food on line which Manna’s trucks deliver twice a month.
Clarkson said the bulk of their work is the sorting of received donations. The food must all be checked and sorted according to the different needs of the agencies.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” he said. “We couldn’t do this without the support of the communities and our volunteers.
Former Asheville Physician, John T. Joyner is one of 6,000 volunteers that help out at Manna each year. Joyner, who has been a Manna regular for 12 years, says he helps because it’s a good cause.
“It’s a wonderful organization,” said Joyner.
In addition to helping a worthwhile organization and making new friends, Manna volunteers can also receive work experience and employment recommendations when they volunteer. Clarkson said with lots of people currently out of work, Manna can be a good place to begin building a resume.
With the summer slump and federal and state support reduced, Manna can now use all the help they can get. They especially need protein based foods, such as meat, beans and peanut butter. They can always use cash donations and of course more volunteers. Anyone interested in helping can contact Manna at mannafoodbank.org, call 828-299-3663 or contact one of their many partner agencies.