Manna Expands to Better Serve Community

Manna Food Bank, the premier food bank in Montgomery County, is set to make critical improvements this summer in order to better serve the community. These changes include a significant overhaul of their distribution warehouse in Gaithersburg.

Since 1983, Manna has diligently served clients by holding true to their mission: “Ending hunger in Montgomery County through food distribution, education and advocacy is the guiding force of all we do.”

Jackie DeCarlo, Manna’s chief executive officer, said that in addition to simply running out of space in their current location on Gaither Road, the organization’s new strategic plan “identified areas in the county with concentrated poverty. We wanted to be closer to the people we served.”

Manna is opening a new 8,000-square-foot location in Silver Spring to serve clients in the eastern part of the county. With this
move, 20 employees will relocate to that location, which allows cubicles and conference rooms in the 12,000-square-foot Gaithersburg distribution hub to be repurposed. When the two-month renovation begins in July, Manna will move to a temporary location in Airpark to ensure service will not be disrupted.

Gaithersburg Middle School (GMS) is now a food distribution site for Manna, open from 4 to 7 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The GMS location is a “choice pantry,” which means that clients can pick the items that they want instead of just receiving a box of staples. The classroom is converted after school into a mini-grocery store and arranged in a way to help clients build meals. Manna began to adopt the choice pantry model of distribution after the registered dietician on staff  suggested the approach. The choice pantry is better from a health and nutrition perspective as well as being more culturally appropriate.

Opening a distribution location in Gaithersburg also provided an opportunity to bring their services closer to the clients they
serve. The warehouse is “in an industrial park and Ride-On isn’t very frequent,” said DeCarlo. While the pantry hours are limited because it is housed in a school, the new location is significantly more convenient. Clients are able to obtain groceries from Manna by appointment, once a month. Food is measured by pounds, and a monthly pickup is usually between 50 to 60 pounds and includes shelf-stable items, produce, pastries and meats. DeCarlo explained that Manna benefits from a program in which they receive commodities directly from American farmers, and this program requires a monthly distribution.

Requirements for receiving food from Manna include proof of residency in Montgomery County as well as documentation that income “falls below what is necessary to be self-sufficient.” Manna partners with other local agencies to help clients obtain food in between the monthly pickups. Nourish Now rescues prepared foods from restaurants and Gaithersburg Help, located in Festival Shopping Center on Muddy Branch Road, provides groceries for three to five days.

The vision statement outlined in the strategic plan states, “Our community is a place where all people at all times have access to safe, sufficient, nutritious food in order to lead fulfilling lives and contribute to making Montgomery County, Maryland, a place where all live in dignity.”

In Montgomery County, 63,000 people live with food insecurity, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. This includes people who eat smaller meals to save money and resources, those who skip a meal or forego a meal to ensure that an elderly family member or child eats. “We have a diverse community, and as people are struggling to find a way into the community, they are looking to make ends meet, and find jobs and child care,” said DeCarlo. “We have a commitment to healthy and nourishing food.”