MANNA hit hard by COVID-19, still servicing those in need

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The world is hectic right now. COVID-19 is affecting everyone, if not health-wise, then in another way, shape or form. Businesses and nonprofits specifically in the Philadelphia area have been hit, and what many people may not realize is that while the world is (theoretically) burning down around them, many of these charitable organizations are still trying to run business as usual—and not because they have a choice. For many people who utilize the essential actions of nonprofits, these services are vital and needed with or without a pandemic.

That certainly rings true for the local nonprofit MANNA.

MANNA has been servicing the Greater Philadelphia region since 1990 following the impact of the AIDS pandemic. At a time when many were affected and in isolation, members of the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia began delivering meals to their neighbors—that’s when the idea for this charitable institution was born.

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“We believe that food is medicine,” says Laura Payne, Senior Manager at MANNA. “We prepare and deliver medically tailored meals to people with serious illnesses in the Greater Philadelphia area. Our clients have cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, kidney failure, diabetes—there are dozens and dozens of different illnesses that qualify you for MANNA meals.”

MANNA has been staying true to its core mission for three decades, having served 16, 380,000 meals to over 31,000 clients with over 85 different illnesses.

“We don’t look at age or income or anything like that,” adds Payne. “All of our clients end up on our program because of their health and nutritional status. They’re referred by a social worker, caseworker, doctor or a nurse. Or they hear about our program from their friends and families and they reach out to us to find out how they can be referred and be in our program. Our dieticians work with their medical team and sort out which of our eleven diet modifications is appropriate for that client.”

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Being an organization that gains life from volunteers, recent events have of course hit MANNA, hard.

“It’s definitely a crazy time for nonprofits across the region and It’s definitely a crazy time for us. We’re just trying to focus on putting our client’s needs first,” says Payne.

Putting their client’s needs first was made abundantly clear when chatting with Payne. While on the call, Payne was on the road with her colleague out delivering meals.

“We’re delivering shelf-stable meals,” says Payne. “We’re providing every one of our clients not only with their regular delivery, which is one week’s worth of frozen meals that were made fresh in our kitchen, but also one week’s worth of shelf-stable meals—nonperishable goods they can use just in case we are unable to deliver.”

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MANNA is a leader in evidence-based nutrition services. The organization offers much more than just meal deliveries, they also offer hands-on cooking classes and nutrition counseling while bringing together dietitians, chefs, drivers, and before COVID-19, thousands of volunteers. With the pandemic spreading across our country, the lifeblood of the organization has been halted, and the volunteer numbers have gone down immensely. MANNA has also had to cancel their annual fundraiser, Shut Up & Dance. Shut Up & Dance has been around for 28 years, and was known as a beloved and meaningful tradition for both MANNA and their partner for the event, The Pennsylvania Ballet.

“We know that our revenue is going to be down because we’re canceling all of these events,” says Payne. “But meanwhile, we’re also incurring additional costs making these additional meals. But what’s most important for us is that clients still receive those deliveries.”

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Even though many of us may feel a bit helpless, there are still ways to assist.

“There are a few different ways people can help. Donating is a huge one, also volunteering—we usually have about 150 volunteers a day. I would say our busiest days this week, we are only looking at about 30 volunteers that are coming in. We completely understand that people need to be safe. We don’t want people who are particularly at risk to come in and volunteer—we don’t want to put their health in jeopardy. But we are down significantly in volunteers and that’s how we prepare our meals and get them out,” says Payne. “We’re definitely looking for volunteers. Say there are teachers who are just at home right now or people who work for other businesses and they can’t work from home and they are looking for other things to do.”

There are also smaller (yet still majorly impactful) ways that Philadelphians can help.

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“We also love to include cards in our client meals, so if parents are looking for something to do with children who are out of school right now, they can always make get well cards or just even “Have A Great Day” cards for our clients and mail them into us. We will get them out to those who need them.”

For more information on MANNA and to find out how you can do more to help, please visit mannapa.org

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