By: Anna Bougie
I saw magic during my rotation at the Manna Food Center. This magic stems from impassioned people working together to achieve the same goal. Manna is the largest food bank in Montgomery county. They strive to end hunger through food distribution, education, and advocacy. Manna has served over fifty thousand people and distributed over three million pounds of food within the community. They also documented over forty thousand volunteer hours, including my hours — so cool! My first day at Manna I participated in one of the volunteer activities where we packaged fresh produce into boxes to be distributed to those in need. I remember making small talk with the other volunteers and learning that most of them have been volunteering at Manna for years. At first I thought, “wow, that’s some commitment” which it is, but I quickly realized that people who volunteered at Manna truly loved it.
Before my experience with Manna, I hadn’t visited a food bank. Although I came into this rotation with an open mind, I had stereotypes in my head of what a food bank looked like, how it functioned and what kinds of products were being donated. I thought there would be minimal variety, mostly canned goods, and a lack of fresh product. Boy, I was wrong! I was packaging boxes of fresh sweet corn, egg plant, peaches, celery, and way more. I made special boxes for people who preferred to eat only organic foods or BPA free foods. Manna also provides special boxes for medical restrictions such as diabetes or cancer patients. I felt as my leadership skills showed through during this time as I was helping Manna volunteers understand why we were putting certain items in the boxes. For example, I lead volunteers on making boxes for diabetic patients. I was responsible for explaining that they are receiving whole grain pasta because they need more fiber in their diet which can help regulate carbohydrate absorption.
In addition, I learned that many restaurants and grocery stores donate food to Manna. I was surprised to see that I was filling up boxes with specialty food items such as guacamole, energy bars, flatbread pizzas, and more! The specialty items seemed to be endless during my volunteer shift. Although initially I felt surprised that natural and organic stores donated to Manna, I soon realized how good of a job Manna does to advocate for people in need within the community and maintain relationships with a variety of grocery stores, including specialty stores.
Not only did I get volunteer experience at the Manna warehouse, I also got to spend time at the Manna Market, which is in a different location. During my time at this location, I developed signage for the market to make the shopping experience at Manna more efficient. I had to use my critical thinking skills to determine what should be included on the signage. At first I tried to add nutrition education to the signage and then realized that it may work better to only have the label of what the food is and then add an additional sign to educate on nutrition. This is because adding more information to the label made the print too small. Adding a supplemental sign ensured that the label would be easier to read.
While at the market, I got to see first hand how Montgomery County community members were able to select the food that they needed for themselves and their families. I remember talking to many of these people to ask them what recipes they were going to make with the items they got, and to be there to answer any questions they had while shopping. It was such a cool experience to learn about the foods and recipes they were planning to make!
During this time, I also worked on educational inserts for the weekend food bags they provide to kids who usually eat their meals at school during the week. I chose a nutrition topic, an educational game for the kids to play and some facts about the topic for these inserts. I realized that making these was harder than I thought. I found it challenging to simplify the nutrition knowledge so that younger children can understand. However, I learned so much during this process and made the frozen food educational insert below.
I had such a great time at Manna Food Center and learned a lot about community nutrition. It was a great start to my dietetic internship learning from people who are actively helping out in the community. This rotation strengthened my leadership, critical thinking and problem solving skills which will help me succeed as a Registered Dietitian.