Meeting Communities Where We’re Needed
For many Western North Carolinians, times are tough. In fact, more than 90,900 people in the 16 western-most counties are experiencing food insecurity every year. Wages are not keeping up with living expenses, and North Carolina is already ranked in the top 10 most food-insecure states in the country.
MANNA’s traditional model for distributing the food we source is through a network of community-based nonprofits across 16 counties who hold open food distributions, meals, and other programs focused on alleviating hunger in their immediate area. This successful model has put more than 19.8 million pounds of food into WNC in the last year alone, and continues to be the primary focus of MANNA’s food distribution program.
In 2015, MANNA began addressing the need for getting perishables to residents through quick delivery. Thanks to a team of dedicated volunteer drivers and a partnership with United Healthcare for funding support, MANNA Express was launched, bringing just-in-time deliveries of fresh produce, eggs, and milk, and working to partner agencies. MANNA also partnered with Thermo Fisher Scientific to support partners’ capacity to safely store and distribute this fresh food with refrigeration and freezer unit donations. This work continues, helping get more nutritional foods to people struggling with an empty plate.
In 2016, following a deep dive into data around the need for food across the region, MANNA staff could see that there were areas of great need who weren’t able to access food resources through the partner network.
The nature of the mountains, and the many rural communities located in “one way in, one way out” pockets, create not just food deserts for those communities, but support deserts as well. There are areas across the region where communities don’t have access to food, as well as community support programs. The staff at MANNA knew something needed to happen to reach these areas and fill as many empty plates as possible. Thus, the work began to strategically build a mobile pantry distribution method.
In 2017, MANNA reached out to The Glass Foundation, who made a transformative gift to purchase and outfit the 24-foot refrigerated truck. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina came along side, and funded a portion of the operational costs, including funding support for a new driver position.
The next step was to pilot a mobile market program to gauge the capacity needed, and the impact of this work. MANNA’s successful pop-up market pilot launched in the summer of 2018, which to date has held 142 markets and distributed over 474,000 pounds of food. Now, these pop-up markets have transitioned to MANNA’s first ever mobile pantry unit, officially named the MANNA Community Market.
The Community Market is now on the road every week, going to areas across MANNA’s 16-county service region with free food distributions. But the Community Market is doing more than bringing food resources. MANNA staff are working with rural communities to create a way for residents to access both free food distributions and wrap-around resources and services tailored to address specific needs in each community. From health screenings, to employment support, these markets aim to bring multiple resources together to support residents with one stop.
“This is one more step in the larger work we do to provide food with hope and dignity,” says MANNA’s Chief Executive Officer, Hannah Randall. “If we can help bring support, resources, and solace even for a moment to the many people facing these desperate situations, that is a powerful step.”