“Ideally, MANNA would put itself out of business,” says Brad Searson, committee chair of MANNA FoodBank’s newly announced capital campaign, the Space to Erase Hunger. Since that wishful thinking isn’t reality, however, the MANNA team is revealing its comprehensive plans to achieve an “integrated facility,” through a complete overhaul of current warehouse operations.
In its first year of operating, 1983, MANNA distributed 40,000 pounds of food across Western North Carolina. In 2014, the nonprofit disseminated that amount daily, serving 107,600 people across 16 WNC counties with the help of 248 partner organizations (where the food is dispersed to final recipients).
“I wish I could tell you that the need for this food was going to decrease, but it’s not,” Searson says. “What we’re talking about [with this campaign] is developing the capacity to handle fresh food — and lots of it — quickly and efficiently.”
In MANNA’s early years, Searson explains, food donations were largely canned or boxed foods that could sit on shelves until a need arose. Now, nearly one-third of donations are perishable items, often including fresh produce and high-quality proteins. But this trend toward better nutrition comes with a bittersweet aftertaste.
“We’ve actually had to turn away fresh stuff, because we couldn’t process it and get it out to our agencies,” Searson says. “The plan is to have capacity to solve that in the foreseeable future.”
“We also went into this campaign because we realized that we could be more efficient in the way we managed our warehouses,” adds Donna Ensley, campaign director.
The Space to Erase renovations, largely the result of consulting by a logistics expert from Wal-Mart’s Raleigh-based offices, are extensive and include major improvements such as a 400 percent increase in freezer space, 171 percent increase in cooler space, 24 percent increase in dry goods storage, a café for volunteers, information technology upgrades, meeting space improvements and additional loading docks, including a dedicated dock for Ingles Markets, MANNA’s largest 2014 donor.
Although many of these initiatives have already been implemented, critical changes like freezer and cooler installations remain unfinished.
“The exciting thing is we’ve already met about 70 percent of the goal. Our goal is 3 million [dollars], and we’re already at about $2.3 million,” Searson says. “I really think we’re going to reach it.”
The initial $2.3 million was collected during MANNA’s “quiet phase” of fundraising, which called upon past and present board members, large donors, staff, foundations and friends for support. Now MANNA will explore wider circles.
“From here forward, we’re launching out in what we call the public phase, which is where we invite more of our donors and the community at large to participate in this campaign,” says Ensley. Ingles offered up the first phase-two donation — a check for $50,000.
The face of the public push is four-time Grammy Award-winning banjoist David Holt, the honorary chair of Space to Erase. Holt says he had followed MANNA’s work for many years but became seriously interested in the organization after hearing a radio interview last year. About a month later, he was asked to join the campaign.
“People are hungry, and I hate to be hungry,” Holt says, “This [extra capacity is for] food that would have gone in the landfill … and it just seems like if society can’t pull it together to take good food and pass it to people who need it, we’ve got real problems. [MANNA] is doing that. Just as a citizen, I appreciate that.”
Visit mannafoodbank.org/space-to-erase-hunger-capital-campaign/ to learn more about MANNA Food Bank and its new campaign.