vintage Giving Tree courtesy of Asheville CT

Reflections on MANNA's 30th

Posted 11/25/13

This article first appeared in the Asheville Citizen Times. Vintage photo of Toby Ives (left) with Santa courtesy of the Asheville Citizen Times.

Written by Toby Ives, Guest columnist

I knew about it in the 1980s. It happened in far away lands and I would donate a bit from time to time to Oxfam (the international confederation of 17 organizations dedicated to fighting poverty) or CROP (the U.S. and international anti-hunger program of the Church World Service, originally called the Christian Rural Overseas Program).

Every now and again I would get busy, miss lunch and late in that afternoon I would be irritable due to personal hunger. That was about the extent of my knowledge of hunger.

In 1987, I was finishing up some contract work when I got a call from a friend who encouraged me to apply for the position of executive director of MANNA FoodBank.
“What’s a food bank?” I asked.
Her explanation challenged my understanding of hunger. I thought a year or two at a local nonprofit might be interesting, so I applied for the position.

I was selected and came to an eye-opening and heart-heavy realization. Hunger, malnutrition and poverty were here in Western North Carolina, in Buncombe County, in Asheville, at my back door.

I learned firsthand that hunger at the local level is often hidden behind the doors of the homes of the elderly, the newly unemployed, the poor, the sick, the developmentally or mentally challenged and others.
Substantial geographical pockets of poverty and hunger exist nearby but we drive around them, don’t see them — maybe don’t want to see them. I came to realize that a child is hungry, now, nearby.

Carolyn Wallace, the outgoing executive at MANNA when I came onboard, helped me get a good start at my new position. She and I attended an Eastern Region Conference of the national nonprofit Second Harvest (now Feeding America) my first week on the job.

I learned that not only was there substantial hunger in America but that there were huge quantities of good food being dumped by industry every day. Food banks and their partner agencies were, and are, the way to get that food safely and with respect to families in need.

So began my 17 years at MANNA and, since retirement, an additional nine years as interim executive and consultant to food banks around the country and in South Africa.

Food banks have evolved and now address the root causes of hunger as well as getting donated food to agencies serving people in need.

For 30 years MANNA has maintained a fine board of directors, staff and many dedicated volunteers who all work successfully together. Many others donate food and funds to MANNA.

My successor, Kitty Schaller, and her successor, current executive director Cindy Threlkeld, have provided solid leadership to the organization.

More to be done
Hunger is a persistent problem in WNC. MANNA and its 221 member agencies are doing a great job, though much remains to be done.
I often speak about four steps related to food banking.
• 1. “Hunger here and excess food there, what a shame.” We are past this step.
• 2. Food banks get excess and donated food to agencies, many of which offer counseling, job training, referrals and other services to families in need. Food banks help address the root causes of hunger. This is where we are now.
• 3. Invite those we now serve to our tables, get to know them and they us. This is beginning to happen.
• 4. Work for a society in which those we now serve have both the comfort and resources to invite us to their tables.

To paraphrase Joni Mitchell:
Hear the dinner gong,
Come to the table laden high and good.
Some get the sweet meat,
Some get the marrow bone,
Some get the gristle,
Some get nothing at all,
Though there is plenty to share.

And Virginia Woolf:
One cannot think well
Work well,
Learn well,
If one has not
Slept well,
Dined well.

MANNA FoodBank is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization. | design © 2014 lucid crew