Hope and Hospitality – Ingredients for Change

Editor’s Note: The following are remarks from Manna CEO Jackie DeCarlo at the Universities of Shady Grove “Ingredients for Change” event with Chef Jose Andres on Thursday, October 28, 2019.

I’m already a big fan of USG and to see alum involvement continues to impress.  I’d like to thank Chef Susan Callahan of the Hospitality Program who has been a long-standing partner of Manna Food Center.  Most recently she has helped us feed more people by wasting less food through our Community Food Rescue program.  Also, I want to give a shout out to Director of Administration, Jessica Nardi, who serves on Manna’s Board of Directors.  I am also extremely honored that the Center for Student Engagement, Director, Andrea Milo, included me and Manna Food Center in today’s events.

Of course, it is a bit intimidating to be the warm-up act for such a famous chef and hero like Chef Andres.  While I love to eat and I’m committed to ending hunger, I’m no cook.  In fact, my idea of a sous chef is to ask my spouse to heat up a burrito in the microwave.

But, fortunately, we do have a couple of things in common.  We both lead not-for-profit organizations focused on not only feeding hungry people but also reforming food systems.  We’ve both been privileged to travel around the world to try to be of service to communities in need and to respond to emergencies here at home.   We both know how essential volunteers are to responding to crisis and to offering hope and hospitality to their neighbors.  At Manna Food Center, in fact, if you add up all the hours volunteers serve in a year, it totals 35 full time staff, more than doubling our capacity last year to reach the 34,210 neighbors we served.

Today, I’ve been asked to help USG students and guests to contextualize the information and inspiration we are about to hear from Jose Andres.   What I’d like to suggest is that as you listen ask yourselves some questions as you hear the stories and statistics.

Here in Montgomery County, for example, an estimated 63,000 neighbors don’t always know where their next meal is coming from.  In fact, more than 50,000 students in MCPS receive meals at schools. On the other end of the spectrum, more and more seniors are aging into poverty.  People like Bella, who called me recently to thank me for the friendly reception she receives at our pantry in partnership with Colesville Presbyterian Church.  Other people who turn to Manna include the working poor—people who work hard but can’t make ends meet. Those neighbors constitute at least a third of the people Manna serves.  So I’d like you to ask yourself:

Do I need to reach out to receive food?

Before you shrink back with the idea of receiving “Charity” let me share that I understand a little bit about how hard it is to be a college student. In undergrad, I was helped by Pell grants, student loans, personal loans, and a single mom who worked two jobs.  I know a lot of USG students juggle studies with jobs.  That’s why USG in partnership with Capital Area Food Bank offers a mobile market once a month.  On a daily basis, thanks to the service of an AmeriCorps member, there is a pantry called Grover’s Essentials.  On November 6, Manna’s Pop Up Pantry (who we nick-named Manny) will be visiting this campus to offer tips on how to prepare tasty, healthy food on a budget.  Take it from me, and I suspect the Chef will agree, there is no shame in accepting help.  In fact, receiving support boosts your chances of a brighter future. You’ll have the energy and focus to study, you’ll be less likely to fall prey to diet-related disease, and when you are self-sufficient you’ll have a deeper empathy for those who fall on hard times.   There are a range of organizations across the county who are ready to serve.  The Montgomery County Food Council has an on-line directory that lists the locations, hours of operation, and more.

Another question to ask yourself as you listen is what part of the Chef’s story would you like to replicate?  Is it volunteering your time?  Starting a social enterprise?  Montgomery County is an excellent place to offer your time and your talent and to innovate.  Our Volunteer Center is a great clearinghouse for all different kinds of ways you can pay it forward or give it back.  And not just with food, you can offer comfort to cancer patients, confront climate change, organize against gun violence.  If you have a passion there literally hundreds of local, regional, and national nonprofits that will welcome your time and talent.  If you ARE into food, organizations like Manna and our partners have opportunities like stocking shelves at our warehouse, assisting with nutrition education classes, answering phones–especially if you are bi or tri-lingual– holding food drives, acting as food runners using our mobile app, and preparing meals in our commercial kitchen.

Finally, ask how you can bring your values into your current or future workplace.  Maybe you don’t want to be a chef OR a not-for-profit executive, you don’t have time to volunteer. Even so, you can make an impact.  Whether you are studying business, cybersecurity, public health or bio-tech, you’ll be working in institutions.  Institutions need people who bring not only their talents and skills to work every day but also their values and commitments.  Seek out and find institutions already committed to corporate social responsibility, such as Marriot International, and urge them to do more.  Or, if you somehow land in a place that doesn’t have a corporate volunteer program or is behind the curve on sustainability, step up and show them how it is done.  Today, you’ll get lots of ideas for making things happen in whatever sphere you operate in.

I suspect you turned out today not only to hear from a celebrity but to learn from a role model.   Listen up and consider how today and tomorrow you can follow the chef’s lead and become a hero for those around you.

So please join me in welcoming to the Universities of Shady Grove, the newly minted #19 of the Washington Nationals, Jose Andres.