Finding More to Life at MANNA

MANNA food helpline graphicwritten by Marlene Champagne

Having recently moved to Asheville last summer, residing in a one-bedroom apartment on East Chestnut Street while awaiting completion of our home at Walnut Cove, I quickly came to the realization that “there just had to be more to life than this.”

Perhaps sensing my frustration, my husband suggested I contact the Walnut Cove association of volunteers, whereupon I was graciously referred to Donna Ensley, Chief Development Officer of MANNA FoodBank.

Little did I realize that meeting Donna for lunch and taking a tour of MANNA’s warehouses would literally change my life – the moment she mentioned the MANNA Packs for Kids program (providing food for children who may not otherwise eat over the weekend), I knew instinctively that I’d found my “calling” here on the mountain.

After interviewing with Jason Turnbull, Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) Outreach Program Manager, I soon began volunteering three days per week at the ABCCM Crisis Ministry essentially processing client applications for food stamps.

Trudging up that hill, backpack in tow, soon became the highlight of my existence, each day providing yet another new encounter with a human being, “just like me,” who’d simply “hit a bump in the road,” in need of someone to support them through a challenging time in their life.

Ironically, a mere five and a half months later, I interviewed with Jason once again, this time to help orchestrate and launch a new Help Line. A true labor of love, with the support of several food banks throughout the country, since June of 2014, our new endeavor has produced in excess of 900 phone calls, – applications/re-certifications for FNS benefits, and close to 200 referrals to food pantries within the 16 counties serviced by MANNA.

With my life’s careers spanning an extensive variety of truly meaningful job opportunities, including a 17-year career in the military and 9 years as a special education teacher, none even come close to comparing with the human interactions and connections I’ve developed as a result of working for MANNA.

Embracing the human spirit of those “just like me” has provided my truest sense of purpose and mission in life, brief encounters with some, in addition to long-lasting relationships with others– all of which have left an indelible imprint upon my heart.