Great People Arise and Come Together.
Mid-March: When the Need Changed Overnight
As the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis hit hard in mid-March, MANNA went into rapid disaster relief response mode, transforming nearly every aspect of our day-to-day operations. The necessary closings of non-essential businesses and schools plunged many people across our region into a financial crisis overnight.
As a result, we experienced a dramatic spike in the number of people who found themselves in need of our assistance. In a matter of days, the lines of people at the 220+ pantries that we support across our 16-county region reached record numbers. Many of whom, for the first time in their lives, finding themselves in need of our vital support.
To protect the health and safety of all and in strict adherence to all CDC recommendations, it was also necessary for MANNA to change our method of food distribution to providing balanced, family meal boxes. This method of distribution creates a low- to no-contact means of food delivery to the people. Therefore, the combination of the significantly increased numbers of individuals and their families needing food —along with our regular food donation sources almost disappearing overnight — and our new low-contact food distribution methods make it necessary for MANNA to purchase more food now than ever before.
Another critical aspect of our work that significantly changed was our volunteer base. So many of our amazing core, weekly volunteers are in a higher risk category, and therefore for their health and safety, we urged them to honor the Stay Home-Stay Safe mandate during this pandemic. Thankfully, we have had an outpouring of support from low-risk residents who are stepping in to help during this crisis.
The Current Gravity of Need
To put the gravity of need in perspective, Asheville is 9th in the nation in terms of mid-size cities with the most leisure, hospitality and retail workers. Therefore, as a tourism-driven area, many of the key industries that are economic drivers for our beautiful region are among the hardest hit, and this includes their dedicated workforce. (Volusion, 4.20.20).
We have heard countless stories from our closest friends in the culinary, craft beverage, hospitality, artisan, and merchant communities faced with the heartbreaking reality of suddenly having to furlough their staff. They are facing deep concerns about their ability to reopen their businesses once this unthinkable crisis subsides.
Consequently, calls to our MANNA Food Helpline have increased by 167% in the past 7 weeks, with people desperately seeking emergency food, assistance with SNAP applications, and other essential resources. Our dedicated helpline staff and volunteer core have stepped up to assist people from across the region, providing both resources and hope in this crisis.
Our experiences at our MANNA Community Market (mobile pantry) distributions are real time, poignant examples of the dramatically increased need across our network. In recent weeks, we have seen record numbers of people served. A few examples include a 66% increase in Avery County, 36% increase in Macon County, 48% in Graham, 49% in the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, 63% in Swain, and 49% in Henderson at our mobile markets alone.
Even more poignant and striking than the percentages are the personal stories that we are hearing from all of the people who are facing this stark reality. Workers who were able to get by one day, and the next found themselves without a job or a savings account; elderly grandparents raising their grandchildren who are now home from school all day. People with pre-existing illnesses that place them at high risk and no longer able to go to work; dedicated service industry staff having to go home to their family of four to share they had no job or paycheck. Our hearts go out to each and every one and we have boundless gratitude that because of all of you, we are able to be there for them.
MANNA’s Incredible Volunteer and Partner Network Response
We are deeply humbled and grateful to share with you that to date, and throughout this pandemic, only a small fraction of our over 220+ partner agencies found it necessary to close. Most of those who did close were private food pickup sites not open to the public (such as daycare centers, group homes, and after-school programs).
This unwavering commitment of our partner network to be there for their neighbors during this unprecedented crisis has been absolutely incredible. In fact, many of our partner agencies not only kept their operations running but increased their hours or days of distributions to show up for our neighbors in crisis. We cannot say enough about the heart, resiliency and determination of thousands of volunteers who directly serve our clients across WNC.
A Special Thanks to MANNA Volunteer Drivers: Amidst this crisis, our hats are off to our extraordinary volunteer driving team who has continued to take deliveries of vital perishable foods directly out to people in need across our 6,434 square mile region.
Strongest Together: The Long Road Ahead
We are all well aware of the uncertainty ahead in terms of how long it will take us to move safely out of this public health crisis. What we do know is that the profound economic crisis created by the pandemic will require a long road to recovery. Therefore, we are planning ahead in terms of how we will be able to continue to serve all those who will be depending on us for food.
As demonstrated in amazing ways throughout this unprecedented crisis, we are strongest together . Therefore, with your faithful support, along with that of so many others, we believe that we will be able to continue to serve all those who turn to us over the many months ahead.
On behalf of those we are and will serve, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.