Photo: Sisters and longtime MANNA volunteers Barb Dejong and Carolyn Jentzen prepare meals for delivery to MANNA clients’ homes. (Courtesy of MANNA Director Laura Johnson)
At its November 1 meeting, the Etowah County Commission proclaimed November 20 as MANNA Sunday, and several local municipalities and organizations have followed suit.
According to MANNA Director Laura Johnson, this recognition marks a longstanding MANNA tradition. Each November, the organization uses the Sunday before Thanksgiving to bring awareness to its work and its needs.
Johnson explained that she asks for prayers over volunteers and clients that week. Some churches even take up a special offering to be donated to MANNA.
“Churches in the community support MANNA,” she said.
MANNA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that provides a daily nutritional meal to each of its clients. It is a United Way organization that relies on support from the community, as well as local government grants and other organizational partnerships.
MANNA’s mission is to look after the physical and emotional well-being of clients with the help of community volunteers who deliver the meals. Johnson said MANNA focuses explicitly on those who “need extra life assistance,” whether they be elderly, disabled, homebound or some combination thereof.
When MANNA started in 1987, its 12 volunteers delivered 8,000 meals per year. In 2021, 75 volunteers delivered 26,926 meals.
Johnson has been director for the past four years. She said volunteers currently deliver to 115 clients each day, but the organization served a total of 267 unique clients in 2021.
Despite its growth, MANNA is faced with challenges of the rising costs of meals, supply chain problems and an ever-present waiting list of clients.
Meals cost $4.25 each: the 26,926 meals delivered last year cost $114,435.50. Supply chain problems and the semi-recession have led to some hiccups in servicing clients, and there is always a waiting list. Cost per client annually, calculated at 254 meals, is $1,079.50.
MANNA is asking for prayers, volunteers and donations to aid its mission.
The organization runs 19 delivery routes each weekday, with some volunteers driving two or three days a week. Each route takes less than two hours to complete, but more volunteers are needed to deliver meals.
“It is so much more than just a meal,” Johnson said. “It is also a wellness check.”
She emphasized the emotional support the program provides to its shut-in clients. According to Johnson, a volunteer once found a client collapsed in the floor of their home after suffering a fall and was able to call for emergency assistance. The health — emotional and physical — of MANNA clients is valued, she said.
“My volunteers, they fall in love with our clients,” Johnson said. “Of course, I do too.”
Johnson said some volunteers fall in love more literally; she claims responsibility for matchmaking a pair of octogenarian lovebirds who met volunteering for MANNA.
MANNA asks local churches to spread the word on MANNA Sunday. For more information or to volunteer or donate, visit mannagadsden.org.