Small bites: MANNA FoodBank packs its millionth book bag with weekend food

PACKING THEM IN: Volunteers at MANNA FoodBank celebrate as Fairview Elementary student Zach Dickey, 9, places the one-millionth MANNA Pack for Kids in a box, ready for delivery. This group of volunteers comes every week to pack thousands of MANNA Packs, which are then distributed every Friday to students across Western North Carolina. Photo courtesy of MANNA FoodBank

On Friday, Feb. 19, for the millionth time, MANNA FoodBank will send a local child home from school with a backpack full of food for the weekend. The MANNA Pack for Kids program distributed a total of 50 kits in 2006, its inaugural year. Now, the nonprofit’s efforts reach an average of 4,838 students in 149 Western North Carolina schools every week.

“The MANNA Packs are heavy on proteins and shelf-stable fruits and vegetables. Each pack also includes the components for a family meal, breakfast and snack items,” explains youth programs manager Beth Stahl, who pioneered the initiative and has driven its progress since. “We send fresh fruit out with the packs when we can. Lately that has been apples.”

According to a release from MANNA, a quarter of WNC children struggle with regular access to food. Many depend on free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch during the school week, but they may not have enough to eat on weekends. School employees help identify these at-risk youths, whose book bags are discreetly stocked before a dismissal bell ushers in the weekend.

“Younger kids will get their bags and share their excitement with their fellow classmates and friends, but discretion certainly becomes more of a priority for the older students,” Stahl says. “They can face stigma from classmates and also pushback from parents that might not feel comfortable accepting what they see as charity.” Under the guidance of MANNA’s umbrella organization Feeding America, privacy has been a priority from the start.

Still, feedback is largely positive. One student called the pack a “treat bag,” and even older students have expressed the bags’ importance. “We’ve also heard a poignant story recently about kids being grateful to be able to bring food home to their families,” Stahl says. “It’s amazing how these young children are taking on this responsibility.” Sharing is factored into the portions.

Despite significant progress, Stahl says the program struggles to meet demand of the thousands of food-insecure homes on a limited budget. “We buy all of the food that goes into the MANNA Packs, so it is a constant funding priority. Another hurdle is sourcing the most nutritious shelf-stable food that is most cost-effective, especially as the weekly number of participants increases.

“For now, we continue to seek to assist kids with the most critical and immediate need while focusing on equitable distribution across our entire service area,” Stahl explains. The current weekly average of roughly 5,000 packs, Stahl says, “is a good number for our staff and volunteers to handle, but as requests from all counties continue to increase, we are facing the reality that we will need to expand the program in the coming years.”

Visit mannafoodbank.org for more information on the nonprofit’s work.

Fermentation workshop

Fermented edibles are the new black, or so it seems. At an upcoming workshop at Medea’s Espresso & Juice Bar, after hearing a quick presentation from owner and nutritionist Medea Galligan on the health benefits of fermented foods, participants can make their own and sample live-cultured and fermented creations. Items on the menu include lacto-fermented sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, cultured vegetables, water and dairy kefirs, crème fraiche (cultured cream), cultured butter and one of Medea’s top-selling drinks, lacto-fermented fruit kvass.

The workshop is 6-8:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20,  at Medea’s Espresso & Juice Bar, 200 Julian Lane, Suite 220. Cost is $35 per person. Visit espressoandjuicebar.com for details or call 676-3101 to register (required). 

The seven moles of Mexico

Known for their laundry list of ingredients, including various chili peppers (and sometimes chocolate), moles are a staple of Mexican cuisine. Along with his culinary team, Table’s chef Jacob Sessoms will feature a different mole in each of seven courses during an upcoming themed dinner. Plates come paired with inventive beverages such as agua frescas and cocktails made of rare spirits, according to a mischievous event description, which warns: “Food will be spicy and loud — just like Jacob.”

The Seven Moles of Mexico is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, at Table, 48 College St. Tickets are $58 per person, available by emailing info@tableashevillecom. An optional cocktail and flights social (not included in price) begins upstairs at The Imperial Life at 6 p.m. Visit tableasheville.com/now/mole for details.

A-B Tech graduate advances to national competition

Ruth Solis, a 2014 A-B Tech culinary arts graduate, won the American Culinary Federation Southeast Region Student Chef of the Year title during a recent competition at Atlanta’s Le Cordon Bleu. She’ll advance to the competition’s national level in July in Phoenix. Prepared under tight time constraints, Solis’ winning dish was a chicken roulade with country ham and cornbread with complementary sauces and sides. The chef worked at Corner Kitchen Catering during her time in Asheville, and she now cooks at Cherokee Town and Country Club in Atlanta.

Visit avl.mx/27n for more information on the win.

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About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

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