As if the holidays weren't already an exciting time of the year, we here at Ever'man are even more excited because it is during this time that we can give back to our local communities who have given so much to us. From its twists and turns, highs and lows, success, and failures resulting from COVID, Sally, and so much more during 2020, this year has been an incredibly eye-opening experience. However, I believe these unfortunate situations have only solidified our mission and values as a Cooperative to give back to our local community through education about health, nutrition, and environmental issues. Supporting Responsible, Local Agriculture, and Small Business, but most importantly, allowing access to healthy, natural foods and products at the lowest possible price.
Since 2017, Ever'man has partnered with another co-op within our community, Member First Credit Union, to provide our Meal in a Bag Program to support local families in need during the holidays. For the small donation amount of $20 purchased at Ever'man, Member First Credit Union locations, or online a bag of food will be delivered to MANNA Food Pantries and distributed to prevent anyone from going hungry during the holidays. Each bag includes holiday staples, canned goods, brown rice and pasta, enough supplies to make a nutritious meal. As we inch closer to this date, I asked to sit down with DeDe Flounlacker, Manna's Executive Director. from Manna Food Pantry, in the efforts to highlight their hardworking organization and an inside look at the effect your purchase has.
1.) If you had to describe Manna in three words, what would they be and why?
Providing hope, together
Manna board member Brent Lane always says, “When someone leaves with a bag of food from Manna, they are leaving with a bag of hope.” Manna, with the support of our partners, donors and volunteers, create hope every day for our neighbors in need.
Those who wish to join the fight against hunger can donate food, donate funds or volunteer. Every donation makes a BIG difference in our community.
2.) Manna's mission statement, much like Ever'man's focus on availability and access to food for our local Escambia and neighboring Santa Rosa communities. How has the recent COVID-19 pandemic changed Manna's procedures and day-to-day food availability for those in need? Both good or bad?
For the safety of Manna’s clients, volunteers and staff, our emergency food assistance pantries closed in late March. At that time, we also “furloughed” more than 70 operational volunteers who are advanced in age, suspended all volunteer group activities, and stopped accepting food donations. Those were all very difficult decisions, because we rely heavily on food donations and our volunteer workforce.
Because we closed our pantries, we found another way to distribute food – through new and existing partners. Manna added more than a dozen community partners to our established list of 10 to help us get food to those most in need. New partners included Community Health Northwest Florida, Pensacola State College, Children’s Home Society, Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies (BRACE), Gulf Breeze Interfaith Disaster Resource Council, and more. We took steps to reinforce our existing partnerships/programs. For example, we increased the amount of food senior citizens in Manna’s Monthly Senior Food Program receive – from 10 days’ worth of healthy food (30 meals) to 20 days’ worth (60 meals). We doubled the amount of food each month, and we brought on a team of volunteers to deliver the food to the seniors so they could stay safe at home.
Overall, since March, Manna has distributed more food to more people through more community partners than we ever have in recent history. We’ve spent more on food purchases than we ever have before, too. Three of the last four years’ purchases combined does not add up to what we’ve spent this year – more than $87,100 in food purchases.
3.) On your company website, you explain that Manna helped 19,499 people last year. Of that, 44% were children under the age of 18, 27% were seniors over the age of 55, and 15% were Military duty, veterans, or retirees. You then finish your statement with, "But that's not enough!". How does Manna plan to increase these statistics and grow as an organization during the year of 2021?
Reducing food insecurity does not necessarily mean increasing the number of people served. It means improving the quality of outcomes for the people we serve, and that doesn't happen in a silo. We plan to continue to develop and grow our collaborations with community partners who care- and case-manage their clients, because we know that addressing food insecurity/hunger holistically provides better outcomes and leads to long-term stability.
Our outputs will be higher this year, no doubt, due to the effects of COVID-19 and Hurricane Sally. And though we are proud we were able to be a part of those folks’ solution, there is still work to do. Sometimes, a bag of food just isn’t enough. So, at Manna, we work every day to find lasting solutions that will lift individuals and families up.
4.) Can you share a favorite Campaign or experience you have had since being a part of Manna?
Every food drive, fundraiser, and Manna event provides an opportunity to build relationships, tell the Manna story, and learn more about our community. Success and satisfaction always looks different – we raised more food, we raised more money, we brought a new donor on board, etc. But, perhaps my favorite thing about Manna is knowing we make a difference. We often hear from folks who’ve once needed Manna’s help before but now want to give back. That is very rewarding and gives the Manna team purpose.
5.) As you know Ever'man and Manna have a long-standing tradition of partnering with Members First Credit Union during the holidays to donate wholesome, healthy meal kits to families in need during Thanksgiving as a part of our Meal in a Bag program. Could you give a little insight and history into this program and how it affects our local community?
Ever’man and Members First Credit Union’s Meal in a Bag program has provided much-needed food for Manna and those we serve for several years. Meal in a Bag food directly benefits some of our community’s most vulnerable senior citizens. Manna operates a program called the Healthy Senior Food Program at Westminster Village, where we provide healthy food monthly to low-income seniors who must often make difficult decisions about whether they should purchase food or medication. The Meal in a Bag program in total has provided more than 27,300 meals to thousands of seniors in need.
6.) Can you share any tips of wisdom for others who are interested in or on the fence about volunteering for Manna or other organizations that are volunteer focused in our local area?
Volunteers make Manna’s work possible. We simply could not do what we do without volunteers. Last year, 5,441 Manna volunteers contributed 14,169 hours of service! They did the work of nearly seven full-time employees – valued at $360,317 (according to Independent Sector)! Those volunteers allow Manna to direct our resources exactly where they need to go – to the hungry in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
Volunteerism is a great way to give back to your community! Though Manna is not accepting new volunteers at this time due to COVID-19, we will again soon. Folks who are interested in volunteering can always check our social media pages and our website (www.mannahelps.org) for updated volunteer information.
This collaboration is just one of the many ways Ever'man is able to increase access to healthy, nutritious food and make the co-op and option for more people in our community. For some, this year has had many life-altering effects, and as a community, it is our responsibility to ban together by lifting each other up. While Ever'man may not have the ability to control the unpredictable 2020, we do have the ability to make sure everyone has access to a hearty meal come Thanksgiving Day. The Ever'man Meal in a Bag program runs through the entire month of November right up until Thanksgiving. Please see Customer Service at either Ever'man location or check out our website for more information or to make a donation. Thank you, Members First Credit Union, for partnering with us and Manna Food Pantry for all of the hard work you do for our community!