In the summer of 2018, MANNA launched a pilot program to provide more perishable foods to communities across WNC. MANNA’s primary food distribution program operates through a dedicated network of over 200 partner nonprofit agencies serving communities across the 16-county region, but with the need for food on the rise, there are struggling communities who might not have a local partner agency in their region. In order to address the need for support in communities where there might be little, if any, food support available, MANNA started the Pop Up Markets.
MANNA Pop Up Markets operate on a simple premise: Community members can contact MANNA, and host a market, even if they don’t have a brick-and-mortar location. In fact, community members need not be an organized nonprofit—anyone who can find a space to host the farmers market-style Pop Up Market can help provide food to their community. Once a community member has established a place and a time, MANNA brings a truck full of fresh foods and other staples for a free community distribution. Community members can then show up with bags to bring food home to their families.
Since launching the pilot last summer, MANNA has already partnered with WNC communities and individuals for more than 20 markets, and provided an average of 2,500-3,000 pounds of food at every market.
“Pop-Ups remind me of the old folk tale, Stone Soup,” says Malarie McGalliard, MANNA’s mobile distribution coordinator. “The fable starts with one person having a pot full of water, and once other members of the community saw water boiling over the fire, they began donating items to add in the hopes of creating a community meal for all to enjoy. By working together, with everyone contributing what they can, a greater good is achieved—and that’s the ultimate goal.”
“Pop-Up Markets are my favorite thing about my work with MANNA,” says Amy Sims, MANNA’s western zone coordinator. “There are so many rural communities with no partner agency or even a grocery store nearby and this program allows us to identify and serve those food deserts and high-need areas. Plus, the feeling of being able to distribute literally tons of fresh produce and other goodies throughout the year is amazing.
We’ve been successful in finding wonderful community partners to help organize Pop-Ups by supplying volunteers, media outreach, and locations. We’ve found that these distributions are so welcome, and much-needed, that many become regular monthly events.”
The impact on our neighbors in need is with each pop-up. The gratitude is overwhelming and humbling. At a recent new distribution in the very remote Hiwassee Dam community in Cherokee County, the majority of those we served were grandparents raising grandkids. This is a rapidly growing trend, and grandparents on fixed incomes too often struggle with limited resources and unmet needs while doing their best to care for their families.
“I believe these mobile programs are an essential part of the future of food banking,” says Sims. “This way, we can get food those in need quickly and efficiently without the need to rely on a partner facility for storage when that option is often nonexistent. My dream is that one day MANNA will have fully stocked mobile pantries in each county we serve at least once a week.”