On the morning of May First, 2014, Executive Director De De Flounlacker sat outside of Manna’s Gonzales Street headquarters with a folding table, some donuts and a pot of coffee. She said "early estimates right now are we've probably lost about 60 to 75 percent of our food." In addition to the loss of food, the buildings were unsafe and unusable. "Unfortunately", she said, "All pantry services are currently suspended."
Manna was back up and operating less than 6 months later using donated building trailers as offices and about half of their warehouse space, but the long term plan has always been to move into a new location, one that is well out of the flood zone. After some delays, the non-profit has started construction at its new location, 3030 North E Street, between Texar and Leonard Street.
The building is the former Pensacola Mill Supply location, and at 23 thousand square feet it’s about half again as big as Manna’s current location before the flood. "It's the perfect location for us" said Flounlacker as we toured the new location earlier this month. "For the first time in decades we are going to have our organization, all of our functions, all of our business under one roof. So this is going to give us a whole lot more space, which is very exciting because it will enable us to do a lot more."
The building has been unoccupied for some time and has already been gutted on the inside. The roof will need to be replaced and interior offices and facilities need to be constructed. "There's some work that's got to be done, but we've looked at (over 55) properties over about a two year time period before we found this one." Flounlacker said the building and location fit most of Manna's needs. "It just felt like home when we walked in."
While the building is a single story, it has two levels. The upper section will be warehouse space with room for a lot more food than can be stored at Manna's current location. There will also be two large freezer units installed on the upper level. The lower level will be custom built so Manna’s employees and volunteers can assist clients. Flounlacker says construction on that part of the interior is set to begin. "We're going to have a conference room/training room area here where we'll be able to have our partners come in to do classes if they want." The new location will also have three times the space of Manna's current client service delivery area. "We'll also have space for visiting agencies who can be here and help out our clients and offer a more holistic approach to problems as opposed to simply focusing on food. Food's important, don't get me wrong, but in reality we know that (it) doesn't solve your long-term problems. So that is why we're doing more work with agencies in our community, collaborating and bringing all of us together to try to do those wrap-around services for clients in need."
De De Flounlacker says Manna has come a long way since that very wet morning three years ago, and she never lost faith that they would come back from the flood. "I knew that we would come back from it and we would come back stronger. And I knew that because I know this community. I know what an amazing community it is. So, we had to find a new place to live. and we finally found it here at 3030."
Now comes the fund raising. Manna Food Pantries launched the public phase of their capital campaign earlier this spring. They have already raised a little over one million dollars. The Bear Family Foundation has donated 375 thousand dollars to the capital campaign, Gulf Winds Credit Union has partnered with other area credit unions to donate 200 thousand, and the Kahn Family Foundation has made what she calls a significant contribution to the building project. They hope to raise an additional 250 thousand dollars during the public phase of the campaign. "As I tell everybody, Manna's not a building, we're not. Manna's not even really food. Manna is people." Flounlacker says people who wish to make a contribution of any size can go to their new web site, Manna Helps dot org. If all goes according to plan, Manna Food Pantries will be operating out of the 3030 E Street location this September.