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Manna Sees An Increase In Food Demand During COVID-19 Shutdown

Manna Food Pantries

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way most of us do business and live our lives. That includes many local non-profit organizations. For example: Manna Food Pantries.

“Overnight we went from 84 volunteers to 11,” said De De Flounlacker, the executive director of Manna. “We had to ask our volunteers who were 65 and older to take a break for their safety.”

For the record, Flounlacker says all of Manna’s employees and volunteers are safe and healthy and learning to operate in a very changed environment.

“We have suspended service at our three pantries because we can’t do that six feet apart social distancing. What we’ve done in lieu of that is we’ve found partners in the community in both Santa Rosa and Escambia Counties to get the food out there to people who need it. Before COVID-19 we had 10 partners. We’re sitting at about 20 partners right now.”

Manna provides food to more than a dozen local programs, for a current roster, click here.

Another huge change is that for the time being Manna cannot accept donations of food.

“And the reason for that is we are following CDC guidelines as well as guidelines of the Florida Health Department and our local health department. We just don’t know how long the virus lives on those food donations, so we’re not taking in food donations and that means we are having to buy food. By the end of this month we likely will spend close to about $65,000 on food purchases. We don’t usually buy food. That’s more than double what we spent (on food compared to) this time last year.”

Since Manna moved to their new location on E Street in Pensacola, their warehouse space has increased and Flounlacker says they have about a 60 to 75 day supply of food on hand. But the need has also increased.

“In March we provided 44,914 pounds (of food), that’s about 63% more than we did the same time last year in March. Now that was just March. In April we had an 80% increase in the amount of pounds that we gave out. An 82% increase in individuals and a 175% increase in families.”

Another complication for Manna and other food banks around the country is this year’s Stamp Out Hunger food drive in cooperation with letter carriers around the country had to be postponed. “That was the right decision. That was absolutely the right decision. But last year that brought in 80,000 pounds of food for us, and that’s a lot of food for us.” Manna has also had to postpone their annual fall pick a bowl, fill a bowl fund raiser. They are currently holding an online campaign called Manna Cares.

Flounlacker believes there will be many more families looking for help in the coming weeks and months.

“A lot of them are going to be folks who have never found themselves in the position of needing to ask for help. A lot of them are going to be our families that are oftentimes called the ‘’working poor’, or families that are living paycheck-to-paycheck. This virus has disrupted their lives in a major way. Unfortunately that disruption is going to really continue for months and months to come."

"I think for Manna, we’re going to continue to do what we do every day. That’s providing the healthiest food that we can to the hungry. And that’s going to mean that we get out of our comfort zone, like making home deliveries to some folks that can’t get out and don’t need to get out. It means that we are going to continue to look for partnerships, some short term, some long term. And it means that this amazing community, I believe, will continue to support all people that need the help. Not just through Manna, but through many other organizations as well.”

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.