RINCON — The Manna House Food Pantry is expanding its effort to meet a growing need created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of providing its customary 700 boxes of free food for family Thanksgiving meals this year, its goal is 1,500.
“We’ve more than doubled our Thanksgiving goal because of the increase (in need) each month,” Manna House Food Pantry & Thrift Store Director Lisa Bush said.
Registration for Thanksgiving boxes, which will be filled with a turkey and other items associated with the holiday meal, is underway. It can be done on-line at www.mannahouserincon.org or during Manna House’s weekly drive-through food distribution events.
“It’s going to be one (box) per household,” Bush said. “It’s a little bit quicker to register online. That can be done through Oct. 23.”
The boxes, located with enough food for four meals, will be distributed Nov. 18.
“It might be Nov. 11, too,” Bush said. “It actually depends on the volume. We have plenty of tickets left.”
Bush is thankful that the food pantry, located at 1210 Patriot Drive, has continued to receive solid financial and volunteer support throughout the pandemic. Its adjoining thrift store, a primary funding source, was closed out of a safety concern for the workers who manned it.
“We thought we would be shut down completely but people went into action right away,” she said. “We knew we needed to do something to be a forerunner in the helping people in this community. Workers were hurting and businesses had to shut down, and a lot of them are still struggling to get back.
“They are finding themselves in a food line when they never would have thought that before and we have been able to step up to the plate and meet those challenges.”
Bush believes divine intervention is at work.
“I can that God has continued to send us the resources of volunteers and the resources of donations,” she said. “It is amazing to watch God work and we are able to see those blessings come in each week.”
An anonymous donor stepped up to fund 750 boxes if Manna House could generate enough donations to match it. Each box costs about $10.
“I’m just praying that we meet his challenge,” Bush said. “People can go to our website to donate to help us.”
America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia has helped Manna House fill some of its food needs. Several vendors, including Lineage Logistics and Borden, are also making substantial food donations.
In addition, the food pantry needed extra space to keep its growing inventory and Terry Proctor stepped up to provide it. He made a nearby warehouse available.
“It’s been challenging but cool to see everyone come together to help families that are hurting,” Bush said. “Right now, we have 10 pallets of apples that we are ready to give away. We wouldn’t have had that in the old world.
“It just blows my mind. I want to sit and cry when I think about it.”
Macomber Park, 1103 Lexington Ave., is the staging area for the weekly drive-through food events each Wednesday from 9-11 a.m. They started in conjunction with the pandemic in March.
“The line basically starts around 5:30 in the morning and the food drive doesn’t start until nine o’clock, so you see the need,” Bush said. “Sometimes the line will be two or three hundred cars deep. It’s definitely heart tugging when you go over there and see that line.”
During its most recent food drive, Manna House served 427 clients.
“That was a remarkable day for us,” Bush said. “We had been running about 375-400 each week so that was a pretty big number for us.”
Bush said the food pantry prepares to serve 500 clients at each event.
“There has been maybe twice that we actually reached the 500 but for the most part we are ranging from 300-400.”
Bush wants to serve more senior citizens.
“Probably less than 20 percent of our seniors is actually coming to most of these drive-throughs,” she said. “Most of that is because they have to wait in a line and they just can’t do that health-wise. They just can’t sit that long and it’s not conducive to someone who has health issues to be in a car that might not have air conditioning that long.
“We hate that but we have to just do what we can right now.”
The food pantry allows designated people to pick up food and carry it to seniors.
“The would need some way to identify the person they are picking up for,” Bush said. “Obviously, I don’t want people just making up a name and say, ‘Hey, I am picking up for five people.’ We try to hold people to some form of accountability.”
Forty-nine food pantry clients received flu shots during the last food event.
“We partnered with Walgreens,” Bush said. “We try to do that every year. This year seemed to be a bigger drawing because, obviously, people are wanting to stay healthy.”
The food pantry plans to offer flu shots again soon.