Collaborating in Communities to End Hunger

pantry volunteersMANNA’s Network Capacity Improvement Project

In 2014, MANNA distributed 15 million pounds of food, including 3.7 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables.  This food made it to the tables of thousands of households in all 16 counties of Western North Carolina. But did you ever wonder how that happens? How exactly did the more than 20 tons of food get to the people who needed it… every single day of the year?

That’s where MANNA’s partner agencies come in. We work with 248 pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and group homes to get the food to the approximately 108,280 people who struggle with hunger throughout Western North Carolina.  Our mission- involve, educate and unite people in the work of ending hunger- would not be possible without a strong network of dedicated partners.

As our partners can tell you, moving, storing, and distributing food equitably takes a lot of time and effort.  Most of our partner organizations are entirely volunteer run and rely on local volunteer and monetary support to keep things running.  Unfortunately, many partners struggle with getting sufficent volunteer support, funding, or facility maintenance.  This means that administrative tasks both big and small – such as documenting operations and procedures, evaluating program efficacy,  keeping up with improvements to our online ordering, and emergency planning – often fall  the wayside.

The MANNA Network Capacity Improvement Project (NCIP) is a new initiative designed to help our partner agencies accomplish goals that will enable them to expand their hunger programs and get more food more frequently to people in need.  MANNA believes that the solution to ending hunger must ultimately be community-based.  It is only through a strong network of highly functional local partners that this goal can be achieved.

The first step in this project was an initial organizational strength assessment of MANNA’s 88 largest pantry partners, representing all 16 counties.  Once strengths and opportunities for growth were identified, MANNA Outreach Coordinators, AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, and a new corps of 12 local volunteers got to work!  This innovative localized team approach to capacity support is not only proving very effective but also catching the attention of other food banks around the country that are interested in network capacity support.

In just 8 months since the team hit the pavement, ordering efficiencies are improving, pantries are sharing best practices at partner meetings and hosting mentoring visits, and leaders at 22 pantries have chosen to work closely with MANNA’s NCIP volunteer corps on a range of projects which include:

  • Volunteer management and training
  • Sharing best practices in food ordering and acquisition
  • Fundraising how-to’s
  • Grant preparedness
  • Web and social media tips and support
  • Client needs assessment surveying
  • Emergency planning

Both the process and the final products from these projects are aimed at strengthening the capacity of pantries to best meet clients’ needs in the decade ahead.  Pantry leaders who are working with the volunteer corps are already sharing ideas and will showcase their projects to others in MANNA’s network beginning next fall.  Our goal during this pilot phase is to identify the most effective approaches and determine the best way to keep this type of support available to all our partners in the future.

This project was funded in part by grants from The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina and Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina Foundation.