Ben and Tuesday here. I’m sure you’re probably thinking, “Wait, who?” We are dietetic interns at the University of Maryland College Park, and we’ve had the privilege to spend the past two weeks at Manna Food Center. Throughout our rotation, we have gotten to experience many different aspects of what is done at Manna. We attended Breaking Bread, created handouts, observed nutrition education sessions, researched a variety of topics, and volunteered in the warehouse.
I’m going to take a minute to brag about the awesome staff at Manna. It’s obvious that they all love their jobs and put their heart into their work to make life better for others in their community. They are constantly coming up with
ways to better the organization for their participants’ sakes. It’s the simple things that stood out the most to me. For example, Manna does the best they can to accommodate special food needs. They pack special vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and renal boxes to ensure that they food they are given out will actually be used by their clients. Another instance of this was when I observed a diabetes and chronic disease prevention nutrition education class. Lindsey is constantly changing her curriculum to meet the needs of the participants. She makes sure to use positive messaging that is appropriate for people of all different cultures and walks of life. All in all, I found it heartwarming and refreshing to see people so invested in the work and mission of their organization.
What I first noticed when I walked through the doors of Manna was everyone’s contagious desire to serve those in need. As we were given a tour of the warehouse, we met people who have been volunteering with Manna each week for the past several years. What keeps these volunteers coming back year after year was the visible effect fighting food insecurity had on their community. The warehouse is the primary site for the Smart Sacks initiative, a program that packs boxes with nutritious food for children who might not have another meal until school is back in session. Manna’s servitude extends beyond the warehouse with its Nutrition Education programs. The elite nutrition education professionals of Manna venture out into the community and teach topics such as chronic disease prevention, added sugars, and shopping tips and techniques.
I was able to channel this mindset of service by partaking in one of Manna’s weekly distribution days. During the first half of a distribution day, we sorted through produce and pre-prepared foods saved through the Community Food Rescue Program, ensuring the item’s quality are suitable for participants. We then packed the produce and rescued goods into open boxes and created bags of meat for participants. During the latter half of the day, patrons came to receive a non-perishable box of food, an open-box of produce, a bag of meat, and their choice of available breads and pastries. These items were loaded up and delivered to the clients. Truth be told, the day seemed long but it was very rewarding, especially after seeing the gratitude expressed by participants. Although my time spent at Manna was short, I can say that I have caught their infectious spirit for serving the community. I highly encourage everyone to take a few hours out of his or her day and volunteer with Manna Food Center.