Manna Market is a food recovery and distribution program that uses what would normally go to waste to help people who need it. In partnership with Second Harvest Heartland, our volunteers pick up food from local grocery stores that is close-dated and get it into our visitors’ hands that same day. This is food that is good quality. If you were to visit one of those grocery stores earlier that morning, you would pay full price for it. But because of the high standards of the stores, they pull it from the shelves before it reaches the end of its shelf life.
This is why it’s called Manna Market. Manna was the name used in the Old Testament for the food from heaven that God provided to the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land. They collected it every morning, except for the Sabbath, and it could not be kept over until the following day, or it would spoil.
In our country 27% of the edible food that is produced goes to waste, either to landfills or hog farms. To us it is a stewardship issue. Why should we waste the gifts that God has given us, when there are people who need them?
How does it differ from a food shelf?
We use the term “market” because people are given choices, just like at the grocery store. Most food shelves are not able to cater to individual preferences. And many people are uncomfortable with the term “food shelf” because of how it makes them feel about themselves.
Each Manna Market is unique, but one element we like to incorporate is hospitality – making people feel valued, either by sharing a meal, a cup of coffee, or a welcoming smile. It’s hard enough for people to accept help when they’re going through hard times. They need to be treated with dignity.
How did it get started?
Manna Market began quite by accident. If we had set out to start a program by developing a business plan, crafting goals and objectives, and following timetables, we never in our wildest dreams would have envisioned it ending up where it is today. And it is still in its infancy. Who would believe that we could start out with no budget, and within just a few years (and still no budget) be distributing well over 1.5 million pounds of food to people who are in need? We have seen the hand of God at work as the pieces have come together.
Manna Market got its start in 2008. “I’d like to say I started it,” says Forrest Gregory, “but I think God had it planned all along, and I was just obedient.” He went to the local food shelf to see if they could provide food for a program he ran at YouthWay Ministries. The food shelf agreed to help, if he would pick up surplus food on Saturdays to pass out to people who lived in the trailer park where the youth center was located. Although he wasn’t thrilled about giving up his Saturday mornings, he agreed to try it for a few months.
As he began to hear the stories of people who received the food, he became aware of how much need there was in our own community. These stories were like ones you hear on the news, but he never expected to hear them so close to home. Before long he was distributing food six days a week, and the people kept coming.
By January of 2010 the program had outgrown the youth center, and a nearby church, SonLight Church of the Nazarene, agreed to move it to their building. Other churches heard about what was happening and began to visit, and ask how they could start their own Manna Markets. Forrest began to mentor those congregations to get them started. Currently, there are Manna Markets in nine locations in Minnesota, with more in the works.
What is involved in running a Manna Market?
Many volunteer hours go on behind the scenes – picking up food, unloading trucks, sorting and distributing food, checking in people, preparing food for hospitality, and cleaning up. But volunteers come back week after week to serve. It has revitalized congregations as people get to know each other while working together for a common purpose.
Why a blog?
I began writing this to give voice to the stories that we hear – stories of people who come to Manna Markets, and stories of our volunteers. It is our hope that this ministry will continue to grow. I attended a meeting awhile back with the Anoka Manna Market volunteers, and was encouraged to listen to people who are so enthused about ministry. They have been operating their program for nearly two years, and have not lost their passion for it. May we all experience that passion for serving our God.
How can I get more information about starting a Manna Market?
You can contact us via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org , or call YouthWay Ministries at 763-205-1035.