Manna Food Center further extends helping hand

MP1 0845Ingred Perez volunteers to help a customer at Manna.  PHOTO BY MARK POETKER  

GAITHERSBURG – Manna Food Center is opening its 25th food pantry in Montgomery County Nov. 12.

The new site, which will be located at Silver Spring United Methodist Church along University Boulevard, will be Manna’s second location to allow those in need to choose the foods their families want.

“It’s in the eastern part of the county. There is a big need there,” said Jenna Umbriac, Manna’s director of programs.

The other choice pantry is located at Colesville Presbyterian church, which serves about 70 families each month.

All Manna’s other sites offer food that already is packaged and ready to deliver.

MP1 0830Racks of fresh vegetables are ready to be given out to customers at Manna.  PHOTO BY MARK POETKER

A large box brimming with vegetables and fruit, several loaves of bread, a bag with meat and poultry and another box containing non-perishable foods are quickly loaded on a cart and wheeled out to the person’s car by one of Manna’s many volunteers.

Its main distribution center in Gaithersburg gives out the food for three hours each weekday.

On Monday, a line of about a dozen people stood ready for the noon opening.

At this site, Manna typically distributes food to 190 people each day, said Stephanie Hubbard, Manna’s director of development.

Any county resident who qualifies, which depends on income and number of people living in the residence, can pick up food every 30 days.

Income levels are based on what it costs to live in Montgomery County, which is higher than the federal poverty level.

“It’s very important,” said Bobbi Lipsky of Germantown, as a volunteer placed food into her car.

If not for the food she gets from Manna, “I wouldn’t have enough. I wouldn’t be here if we didn’t need it,” she said.

Lipsky gives out any food her family doesn’t use to her neighbors in the senior citizen complex where she lives.

Azucena Go, who lives by herself in Rockville, said her Social Security check is not enough to pay for everything she needs, especially when her rent keeps increasing.

“The government should know what is going on,” she said, referring to how many people were awaiting their free food. Her friend picked up food to help feed herself and her four children.

MP1 0831Ingred Perez prepares bread to be given out.  PHOTO BY MARK POETKER  

The new Silver Spring food pantry site will be operated in partnership with Silver Spring United Methodist Church and will be open the second and fourth Saturday of each month.

Church renovators are sprucing up the downstairs kitchen, which will then be used from time to time for cooking classes and demonstrations, said Umbriac.

Congregants chose the site party because of its easy access to public transportation by buses traveling along both University Avenue and Colesville Road, she said.

Of Manna’s 25 sites, nine are open to all county residents who qualify and the others are located in apartment complexes and only serve those residents, she said.

Manna feeds about 3,700 families a month, for a total of 35,000 people. Manna also serves about 2,400 Montgomery County students in 60 elementary schools with its smart snacks program.

The food Manna distributes is meant to supplement what families already use daily.

The number of people served by Manna “is not terribly different” when compared to the previous few years, Umbriac said.

More county residents were food insecure several years ago but the numbers have been “trending downward,” she said.

Demand for food is highest in the winter months when construction jobs are harder to find and in the summer when children are home and don’t receive free or reduced meals at school, she said.

Holiday time also brings more people to Manna’s pantry, as they are “more conscious of having a nice spread of food for friends and family,” Umbriac said.

According to Manna’s annual report for Fiscal Year 2016, there were 71,000 food insecure people in the county, and one in three county students qualify for free or reduced meals at school.  

The food Manna distributes is donated by more than 50 area grocery stores and farmer’s markets. The rest comes from donations, mostly from scout groups and religious congregations

During the past year, Manna distributed almost 2.5 million pounds of food at its 24 sites, with the help of volunteers who worked a total of 73,000 hours. 



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