Building Community: The Manna Food Project

WRITER | NICOLETTE CHAMBERY
PHOTOS | THE MANNA FOOD PROJECT

Michiganders are committed to empowering disadvantaged individuals and families, as showcased by the Manna Food Project, its extensive volunteer base, and consistent donors who enable the organization’s mindful and effective programming. Now under the directorship of Kim Baker, a Grand Rapids native with a strong history of leadership, Manna has expanded its offerings to serve even wider swaths of people, operating as the only food bank in Northern Michigan.

The Manna Food Project was started in 1987 by six couples who recognized a need in their community and rose to the challenge of meeting it. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, a dedicated staff, and robust board of supporters, the program now provides food to 44 food pantries and community kitchens in Antrim, Charlevoix, and Emmet counties – a total of 1.2 million pounds per year. Manna also operates as a food pantry, supplementing the food supply of nearly 100 households a week.

There are 600 hundred volunteers — 200 of which are considered the core group — who ensure the organization’s function and “without whom the organization wouldn’t be able to fulfill its ambitious mission,” says Baker. These volunteers range from home-schooled children to church groups and honor society students, each person committed to serving someone in need.

Manna initiatives include a Backpacks-4-Kids project, which distributes 2,250 backpacks to 23 elementary schools and 12 preschool programs. This act of service and care fuel the developing young minds of children who participate and teaches them the importance of generosity within communities.

Manna also rescues food by sending its trucks to Aldi, Meijer, and other grocers willing to donate perishable food that has been rotated off store shelves due to overstock or upcoming expiration dates.

Another program Manna has started is called Produce for People, which aims to nutritionally enhance the lives of program participants who may not have the time or resources to commit to that lifestyle on their own. Manna accomplishes this through local markets that offer fresh produce at reasonable prices to distribute to partner agencies.

In addition, Manna hosts a cooking class in the fall for pantry clients in Antrim, Charlevoix, and Emmet counties. The first 150 guests receive a 5-quart crockpot to assist those who don’t always have the desire or the time to dedicate to complex meal-making.

As the organization’s leader, Baker feels especially compelled by this work and the lives it can change and describes this as the most rewarding work he’s ever done.

“My heart goes out to those who struggle to put food on the table. I’m often asked if people take advantage of food pantries, and my response is that it is a very humbling experience to come and ask for help. Who am I to judge their circumstances?”

In Michigan, 40 percent of households don’t make enough money to pay for their basic needs; 13 percent live below the poverty line, with one in five children residing in households without consistent access to food.

“We believe that when we help with food, which tends to be expensive, we are relieving a family’s household budget so they can pay for other essential needs. I have seen this time and time again, and we are all a job loss or crisis away from needing help ourselves.”

The Manna Food Project  8791 McBride Park Dr., Harbor Springs 49740 l (231) 347-8852  l  MannaFoodProject.org