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Chose to Give

Notes from the CEO – Jackie DeCarlo

With Thanksgiving falling late in November, it feels to me like we celebrated one holiday and then, with the quick turn of the calendar page, we are in a whole new season already! I hope you had a chance to pause and savor an abundant and tasty Thanksgiving. As a Manna Food Center supporter, you can be assured that thousands of your neighbors were grateful for the services Manna provides. One woman left our marketplace Thanksgiving Eve saying to me, “Thank you, thank you, thank you…you just don’t know what this means. You just don’t know.” I want YOU to know that because of your generosity, Manna Food Center was able to offer good food in welcoming spaces to everyone who turned to us—1,158 people Thanksgiving week alone!
Last Tuesday was another celebration — Giving Tuesday. We celebrated giving back to the community and many of you showed their generosity with financial donations to Manna Food Center. Your support helps us replenish our shelves and fill our fridges with food. Your donations also make it possible for us to educate neighbors on how to prepare healthy holiday meals (Link to Cynthia’s blog post) and open our spaces to groups sharing skills such as GED tutoring, breast-feeding tips for new moms, and English language learning for adults.
The Giving Tuesday holiday also means the clock is ticking for end-of-year contributions. Depending on your age, your tax status, and other circumstances, there may be financial incentives to gifting required-minimum distributions or other contributions to Manna Food Center. Some individuals and families designate donations from Donor Advised Funds at the end of the year. (Link to Manna page as appropriate). Last month we shared tips from Rebecca Rothey, Vice President of Development and Senior Philanthropic Advisor at the Greater Washington Community Foundation. If you didn’t have a chance to act with those tips in mind, now is the time to do so!
However you chose to give, on behalf of the Manna Board, staff, and volunteers I want to thank you for giving us so much. As we gear up to end the year strong, I am so aware we could not serve without you. Thank you for being part of our team as we create together a community where there is Food for All.

Notes from the CEO – Jackie DeCarlo

Dear Friends of Manna,

The start of a school year brings a sense of excitement – even if you aren’t a parent, student, or teacher. Something about the academic year remains with those of us who have had the privilege of a formal education; the sense of possibility is keen once classes begin. Here at Manna Food Center, the anticipation is even greater this fall.

Jackie signals we’ve got two celebrations coming up as she discusses final details for the marketplace with our construction contractor, Mike, from Therrien Waddell.

After years of planning and months of actual transition, we are settling into our new spaces. Our market and learning space in Silver Spring is opening its doors soon, and our warehouse is almost completely renovated. We have a vision of a Montgomery County where all people at all times have access to good food in welcoming spaces. Our recent renovations and relocations will better make that possible.

In our September newsletter, you’ll read about some of the celebrations we are having to welcome you into those spaces. I hope you will attend so I can thank you personally for helping us come this far!

Sincerely,
Jackie

Notes from the CEO – Jackie DeCarlo

U.S. Rep. David Trone and Odessa

I’m having a bit of writer’s block: There is SOOO much happening in the world of Manna that it is hard to know what to share. Perhaps I should just offer up a “day in the life” to give you a taste of how we are fighting hunger and feeding hope this season.

A Day in the Life of Manna
One Tuesday this month I started the day at the community kitchen of Silver Spring Methodist Church, where we hosted WAMU radio, alongside partners KindWorks and MCCH, to share how the Community Food Rescue program helps feed neighbors and reduce the environmental impact of food waste. Then I went to Montgomery Village, where Rep. David Trone was a making a stop on his summer food tour. By gathering representatives from MCPS, the Department of Recreation, and the not-for-profit community, Manna helped the Congressman understand strategies for increasing access to healthy meals in the critical summer months.

Jackie helps a warehouse volunteer cool down.

Back at the warehouse, Manna’s logistics team was settling into our temporary warehouse at 8341 Beechcraft Ave in Gaithersburg (where food donations are accepted until our warehouse is renovated). Operating with less space and without any shelving or air-condition, our amazing team has exceeded my expectations of dedication and flexibility. Alongside stalwart volunteers, this particular Tuesday our staff got Manny on the road for a class at a Montgomery Housing Partnership location and conducted our food distribution satellite at Clifton Park Baptist Church.

Meanwhile, the office staff was in the final countdown of “purging and packing” as we relocated our headquarters to 12301 OLD Columbia Pike in Silver Spring. We are 50% of the way to opening a center featuring a marketplace to choose free food, alongside collaboration and classroom space. Save the date for an Open House: October 19!

Clearly, it has been an unusual and exciting summer for all of us dedicated to eliminating hunger. We could not make the progress we are, without supporters like you: donating food and funds, volunteering your time, even dropping off baked goods to nourish my teammates with surprise treats! This summer has been a group effort, and I am humbled by the response each and every day.

Sincerely,

Jackie

Notes from the CEO – Jackie DeCarlo

Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation volunteers with Jackie DeCarlo

Traditionally our February e-newsletter is a time to shine a light on the service that happened in honor of Dr. King’s birthday the previous month. This year is no exception. Stalwart volunteers-from high school students to Members of Congress-braved bitterly cold weather while helping us collect 28,542 pounds of food from 20 Giant Food stores. On MLK Day itself, with the support of our friends at Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation, we participated in the County’s Day of Service and prepared 768 boxes of food boxes for neighbors with special health concerns. I want to send a big THANK YOU to all those who volunteered, shopped, or packed boxes.

Another January story was, of course, how Manna Food Center responded to the longest running Federal government shutdown in U.S. history. By waiving the income eligibility requirements for the families of Federal workers, contractors, and others negatively impacted by the shutdown, we were able to share good food in welcoming spaces to 748 neighbors. We did this, while maintaining our usual Food for Families and Smart Sack programs and activating the Community Food Rescue volunteer network. Manna couldn’t have responded as consistently and abundantly as we did without generous donations of food and funds.  Even though the shutdown is over, our waiver is still in effect as families recover.

The shutdown is a teachable moment for all of us. Last month, Forbes reported that 78% of U.S. workers are living paycheck to paycheck. Missing a paycheck can mean not making the rent, defaulting on a car loan, or ruining credit by skipping a utility payment. Manna helps prevent financial emergencies by offering Montgomery County families groceries at no-cost. We are confident that we will rise to any challenge ahead. As advocates as well as service providers, we are now redoubling our efforts to help the community understand that even when the government is working as it should, a health crisis, marital difficulties, or other stressors can put a household into a tail-spin.

There are many ways that you can be involved in helping our community rebound from the shutdown and prepare for what’s next. Attend our Advocacy Task Force on February 19, visit our Breaking Bread potluck on February 20, or donate online. The Montgomery County community responded with generosity during the shutdown, and Manna Food Center will keep sharing food, building skills, and creating connections day in and day out, with your help.

Sincerely,

Jackie

Notes for the CEO – Jackie DeCarlo

We are experiencing a perfect storm (pun intended!) of vulnerability.  Montgomery County is cleaning up after a major snowstorm which created the usual complications for those needing shelter, clothing, and food. Many Federal workers also received no pay on Friday, and that evening hundreds turned up at a community supper that Manna Food Center was proud to support. As the weekend and weather played out, kids who receive meals at school went without on a snow day, and neighbors who rely on Federal contracts or related business have had their livelihoods disrupted. One family who turned to Manna for the first time last week told their story to NBC4.

Furloughed worker, Martin Conterez, and his family reached out to Manna for food assistance. (Video: NBC4)

Manna Food Center is waiving our income eligibility requirements for those who are impacted by the shutdown.  Because we recognize that the ripple effects are reaching into the community, we are not requiring Federal IDs to receive food.  If you are a resident of Montgomery County, it is our honor to offer you good food in a welcoming space. Because we know that food is just one element of concern, our staff are sharing information about how peer organizations and public agencies are stepping up with other resources.

The response to both the snow and the shutdown once again reveals what a special community Montgomery County is. One donor went online to give to Manna and shared that her gift was “For those who are furloughed. …[I am] happy to be able to help.” If you are in a position to donate, please consider an online gift that will help Manna purchase healthy food.

We are also putting plans into place should the shutdown drag on, leaving more people vulnerable, especially as SNAP/Food Stamps benefits run out. Please mark your calendars for January 19-20, 2019, when we will be holding our annual Food Drive in honor of Dr. King.   During these uncertain times, it is essential for Manna to keep our shelves stocked and services strong. You can volunteer with us that weekend.

A government worker let us know, “This place is great. [You] gave me so much food. I am … on furlough status and not receiving a paycheck. This was such a great help. Thank you Manna!”

Thank you, for making sure Manna is ready whenever we are needed,

Jackie

Jackie here.

Here at Manna Food Center we fully embrace the notion that Dr. King’s Birthday should be a “Day On not a Day Off.” This year in particular, I wanted to honor Dr. King in a way that would help me be a better leader.    Taking to heart Dr. King’s observation that,

 

“The ultimate measure of a [hu]man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.”

 

I decided I wanted to test my commitment to the welfare of others by walking in the shoes of those Manna serves.  I began a week long “Manna diet.”

 

Like any other participant who schedules a pick-up at one of our distribution sites, on the Friday before MLK weekend I claimed a closed box of non-perishable items and an open box of produce, along with a bag of meat.  Even though I know the technicalities of a Manna order—approximately 60 lbs of food designed to offer items that match the nutritional guidelines of the USDA’s My Plate, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of food I received and the range of items it contained.

Each Manna packages contains a variety from each food group.

 

Looking the order over, I experienced my first minor disappointment—my produce allotment contained more than ½ dozen green peppers, and only one red.  I’m not a big fan of green peppers.  Plus, there was a huge head of cabbage.  I had no idea how to cook that, and I forgot to grab a recipe in the lobby.  But seconds later I felt a boost: a sweet item I could choose from the dessert table was my favorite—crème brulee. I rarely get that special treat except when I go out to eat at a fancy restaurant. There was even a peanut butter brownie for my spouse!

 

Within two minutes of my “diet” I got a sense of what Manna participants experience every time they turn to us for food—the fact that the offerings are well-rounded, nutritious, and tasty, but they are also mostly determined by “the luck of the draw.” I received what items were available due to what had been rescued or collected that particular week.

 

When I arrived home, opening the closed box of canned items and bag of protein was a little like opening birthday gifts.  There was a lot of curiosity about what was inside.  Here, too, I was pleased and disappointed at the same time.  There were lots of green canned vegetables and tuna, which I know I need to eat more of, but there were also yams and dry beans that held no appeal for me.  Also, some of the meat options I had never cooked before in my life (pork neck bones turned out to be quite delicious after I simmered them in a crock pot). In my meal planning for the week, I realized how much I typically rely on food items that are pretty quick to prepare—frozen veggies, quick to boil pasta—and are not very creative.  With the Manna box, I had a variety of items that required time and talent to prepare.  I also realized that I go out to eat regularly, which is something low-income families might not have the option of doing.

Manna distributes these can strainers in our nutrition workshops.

 

Over the course of my week, aware of the nature of my experiment, I tried not to complain too much about the constraints of my food options, but I definitely felt limited by my circumstances.  I also learned a lot about myself in how I typically use food to reward myself (no salty chips were in my Manna box!), and I gained an appreciation for how much creativity and commitment is necessary to make the most of Manna offerings.  If I wasn’t already committed to Nutrition Education programs to help our participants learn how to shop and cook on a budget, I am now!  If I wasn’t passionate before about increasing options for choice, I am now!  I am so grateful that Manna, in partnership with faith communities, has three choice pantry opportunities each month, where neighbors can shop for the food that matches their families’ size, tastes, and other preferences.

 

All in all, my week on a Manna diet didn’t entail too much hardship, and I’m proud of that.  That means to me that what Manna is offering our participants is generous, healthful, and appropriate.  We are on track to meet our goals for continuing to increase the quality of food and the options for receiving it.  What I learned most from the week-long diet was the power of giving up comfort and convenience.  Inspired by Dr. King and fueled by the direct experience of being reliant on others for my food, I am more committed to helping create a hunger free Montgomery County.

Thank you for joining us in our concern for the welfare of our neighbors.  I look forward to your responses (on our FB page or info@mannafood.org) to the Manna diet and any reflections you have about the work we are doing.

Dear friend of Manna,
Although school was out during the summer, Manna did a little bit of testing. In June & July we completed our annual client and staff surveys to get feedback and input into the effectiveness of our programs and the status of our team.

Manna has, in my humble opinion, the best team in Montgomery County. Our dedicated staff of two dozen individuals embraces our core values of service, respect, and collaboration to pursue our mission of eliminating hunger in our community. We are as beautiful as the county itself-reflecting diverse ethnicities, classes, races, and religions. Our skills range from navigating suburban and rural roads behind the wheel of 20 foot trucks, to serving clients with professionalism and compassion, to building donor relationships, to collaborating with partners of all kinds…and much, much more.
One of my main goals as Executive Director is to serve this incredible staff so they can do their best to serve the community. I was humbled and gratified when our survey results showed 67% of the Manna team rated their experience working at Manna as excellent. This was up from 32% in FY15. Other notable responses were that 73% agree or strongly agree that their opinions count at Manna, and 87% believe Manna is on the right path to achieving its mission.
Feedback from our client survey was encouraging as well. Our service was rated good or excellent by 92% of our participants. 92% also indicated they use most or all of food received, indicating that we are providing quality, healthy food and also helping avoid food waste at the household level. The most popular suggestion we received, from 73% of participants, was the request for a larger portion of fresh fruits and vegetables.
One of my favorite sayings around Manna is that I don’t expect perfection but I do expect excellence. I think that this summer’s survey responses indicate Manna is making the most of its high caliber team to deliver exceptional programs. You as a community member should also expect no less, and I thank you for your support .
Jackie DeCarlo
Executive Director
jackie@mannafood.org
240.268.2524
Dear Manna supporter,
When I was in the third grade I won an essay contest entitled, “Why I Love My Country.”  Whenever the 4th of July rolls around, I remember my careful cursive writing and some of the things a young girl was proud of: beautiful landscapes, the Constitution, and caring teachers like Mrs. Robinson.
All grown up and living in Montgomery County, I still believe deeply in the best of America.  Even though on a daily basis the Manna team witnesses some of the struggles our neighbors face, we also know firsthand that community members, like you, are rising to the challenge of fighting hunger with us.  We need food, friends, and funds to reach approximately 3,700 families each month, and your continued generosity and support make that work possible.
Thanks also to those of you who responded to last month’s request to participate in our strategic planning survey.  The people we serve are partners in our work too.  Recently, as part of our strategic planning process, Manna invited groups of clients to speak to us about Manna services and to share opinions about the future of our work.   Their sentiments were both encouraging when they spoke of their gratitude for Manna and heart-wrenching when they spoke of their need:
If there was no way to get food from Manna during the month, the degree of hardship will be great, especially for the children who often have to go to bed hungry.  There are numerous occasions during the month were there is only enough food for the children, so the parents will miss a meal.
Throughout the summer, Manna will continue our process of listening to stakeholders as we finalize a strategic plan.  I will be sharing details with you in future newsletters.  While we don’t have all of goals and strategies set, like that little third grader who won her first blue ribbon, I’m very optimistic about our prospects. I know what this community has to offer, and I’m proud to work with you and the whole Manna team to create a Hunger Free Montgomery County.
Jackie DeCarlo
Executive Director
jackie@mannafood.org
240.268.2524

When Manna’s doors first opened 33 years ago last month, elected officials were present at the creation. Several months before, County Executive Charles Gilchrist, had convened a task force to address the needs of low income and hungry neighbors.   Staff from the Department of Health and Human Services, then headed by Chuck Short, now Special Assistant to County Executive Leggett, took a lead role in creating what became Manna Food Center.  We are grateful for the foundational vision of politicians and civil servants who shaped Manna’s mission.  Today, with the passing of the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, we continue our appreciation for the leadership that made funding of several core programs possible.  While public funding constitutes only about 20% of Manna’s total revenue, it is essential to our ability to work toward a hunger free Montgomery County.

“We are also beefing up our safety net with an increase in the Working Parents Assistance program’s subsidies for child care; an increase for initiatives for homeless veterans and chronically homeless adults; an increase for the [Weekend Bag Coalition], which provides food for elementary school children; and numerous other support programs for our most vulnerable residents.” -Nancy Floreen

 

I know that many difficult decisions were made by the County Executive and County Council in approving the budget. As a taxpayer and homeowner I recognize that my family will be paying more in taxes to make this budget possible.  As the Executive Director of Manna, I am also impressed that, as Council President Nancy Floreen said, many items in the budget “….will have a direct impact on residents’ lives….[For example] We are also beefing up our safety net with an increase in the Working Parents Assistance program’s subsidies for child care; an increase for initiatives for homeless veterans and chronically homeless adults; an increase for the [Weekend Bag Coalition], which provides food for elementary school children; and numerous other support programs for our most vulnerable residents.”

 

Thanks to Montgomery County support Manna will be able to:

    – Continue our service as the County’s designated food bank: Last year Manna reached 38,637 residents at an annual cost to the County of approximately $5.00 per person

  – Provide nutritious food to approximately 2,500 students weekly through our Smart Sacks weekend bag program.   By collaborating with Montgomery County Public Schools, Women Who Care Ministries, and Kids in Need Distributors, we will also scale up efforts to reach the neediest low income students in the next school year

  – Coordinate the efforts of the Community Food Rescue network, which is working to increase the amount of food recovered and shared with food insecure neighbors by 20%

  – Work with local farmers and Farmers’ Markets through our “Farm to Food Bank” project that makes more locally grown produce available to the 3,700 families who visit Manna monthly.

 

When I approach foundations, individuals and businesses to ask them to lend their support to these programs designed to end hunger, my “ask” is stronger because I can say that elected officials are a part of the solution.  Clearly taxpayers are both contributors to and beneficiaries of the work Manna does.  On behalf of the staff and Board of Manna Food Center, and the individuals, families and neighborhoods we serve, I thank Montgomery County as a whole for being a place where our most vulnerable residents are served and our prosperity is shared.

 

Jackie DeCarlo

Executive Director

 

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Members of the Maryland Hunger Solutions delegation

Have you ever been interrupted while telling an important story?  Or had a call drop in the middle of an important conversation?  These experiences – whether due to technology or even rudeness -can be unsettling.  As human beings we all want to be heard.  It is a natural part of who we are to want to share our experience.

Manna Food Center is honored to touch the lives of 38,627 people every year.  While we can’t have a conversation with each and every client, we believe it is important to listen to those we serve to understand their realities and create common solutions.  In February we had two unique opportunities to listen and learn.  Before a House of Delegates committee in Annapolis, a Manna client, 89 year old Margaret Dubinsky, shared why as a widower with no living children, she relies on Manna’s services and Food Stamps.  She noted,  “When I was younger, I worked as a secretary. I also spent many hours volunteering with my church to provide food for people who were homeless. Now, here I am on the other side of the table, asking for your help.”  On the car ride home from our state capital, Margaret told me how glad she was to be able to help influence policy makers. I told her how inspired Manna is to be a part of her story.

Soon after, a group of eight guests at the Colesville Presbyterian Church accepted an invitation from Manna to “break bread” together before they began their monthly shopping at the choice pantry.  The conversations we had with the group, as well as community members, were another example of how Manna is combining our food distribution service with opportunities to build community and share experiences.  We are also convening dinner sessions and “street conversations” at distribution sites to foster dialogue across lines of difference about what it will take for Montgomery County to be hunger free.

Manna believes that listening and learning will help us work with the community to create opportunities, policies, and programs to end hunger.  We are interested in engaging with you too.  Please consider volunteering, donating, or reaching out to me directly to share your ideas and insights.

Ending hunger: it’s what we do together.

Jackie DeCarlo

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At one time in my career, I was an AmeriCorps director and was motivated by the agency’s notion that the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday should be considered “A Day On, Not a Day Off.”  Since coming to Manna, I’ve been impressed by how the Montgomery County community comes together on the 3rd Monday of January for a Day of Service.

This past MLK Holiday was particularly special and other food agencies like ours will benefit from the community’s generosity.  We hosted our annual MLK Food Drive at 27 Giant stores across the County.  We owe a huge thank you to the hundreds of food drive volunteers, Giant staff, and store patrons, who made the collection of 29,647 pounds of food possible.

But the service didn’t end with the food drive!  We also participated in the service event led by the Montgomery County Volunteer Center, on MLK Day to make 100,000 meals.  I was fortunate, along with dozens of other nonprofit representatives, to gather with 2,700 volunteers at the Bethesda Marriott Conference Center.   The volunteers assembled meal packets that consisted of rice, beans and other savory ingredients.   In an initiative with the anti-hunger group, Outreach, and thanks to the support of Fund for Montgomery, the Marriott was a hub of activity as citizens and elected officials gathered to help make Montgomery County hunger free. Click here to see highlights of the event.

FullSizeRenderManna now has more than 16,000 food packets to share with the community.  Manna will, of course, include the packets as part of our regular monthly boxes during the winter months.   As the Center of ending hunger in our County, we will also be sharing these packets with soup kitchens, shelters, pantries and other food programs.  Please let us know if your agency or place of worship would like to benefit from the Dr. King service day success.  Reach me directly:  jackie@mannafood.org.

If the spirit of service over MLK weekend is any indication, it is going to be a great 2016!

 

Jackie DeCarlo
Executive Director

Join us on February 4 to learn about critical changes to SNAP/Food Stamp eligibility in Montgomery County.

fireworks

As a big goal setter, I am the kind of person who loves New Year’s because I appreciate the chance to pause and make resolutions while also taking stock of progress on commitments made.  Yet at the same time, I am not much of a party-person and am regularly asleep way before midnight.  It has been awhile since I have seen the famed ball drop or toasted the arrival of the New Year.  This paradox is similar to where Manna Food Center finds itself—we live in a county with tremendous assets—diverse people, a vibrant mix of urban and rural communities, and policies and programs that work to share prosperity and opportunity broadly.  Yet, at the same time, approximately 78,000 of our neighbors are not always sure where their next meal is coming from in the year 2016.

The staff and Board of Manna embrace the challenge of such contradictions, hopeful that together we will find solutions to complicated issues.  This is not unwarranted optimism borne out of too many holiday treats, but it is a vision grounded in our commitment to tested approaches and fresh ideas.

Manna has a lot of plans for 2016.  We will:

Click here to sign up for our monthly newsletter and stay up to date on all that will be happening during this New Year.  Please continue to reach out to me personally if I can be of service as we work together to  fight hunger and feed hope in this great, if complicated, county of ours. And, of course,

Happy 2016 to you and yours,

 

Jackie DeCarlo
Executive Director