Manna House: Help for Everyone

by | Dec 1, 2021 | Features

Photo by Liz Chrisman

Five days a week, two hours per day, Manna House volunteers are checking identification cards, stocking the food pantry, handing out free and full meals for all who need it. The nonprofit, which stems from the First United Methodist Church in Russellville, has been feeding those in need in the River Valley since September 2000. And it’s been serving another local and vital nonprofit, the HELP Network, by offering housing for HELP Network operations, strengthening efforts to feed and house our less fortunate community members.

The organizations had been sharing space since the beginning, so when Manna House unveiled its upgraded warehouse and office spaces in September the HELP Network wasn’t left behind. The new facility features three office spaces to further HELP Network’s goals while also expanding Manna House’s services.

The two have always been aligned in their missions as well. Both are faith-based organizations dedicated to helping anyone they can. They differ in their service areas, the HELP Network offering a range of services such as rent and utility assistance, homelessness prevention and employment, while Manna House works to provide the most necessary food and hygienic items. But those differences in service areas compliment one another, creating room for an unofficial dual partnership and the nonprofits’ goals align quite nicely with the convenience of shared space.

For example, a patron can walk into Manna House to pick up meals and toothpaste and walk out knowing how to better their living situation through the HELP Network. As Manna House volunteers bag up meals and hand them over, the conversation often leads to recommendations for any additional services that the HELP Network can assist with and vice versa.

That ease of transition between needed services has been boosted for both of them with the new facilities updated office spaces, warehouses, and appliances allowing improved service for assisting an increasing number of patrons to Manna House. Once the pandemic eases, HELP Network will be able to hold more interviews and with additional privacy. As of now, appointments are conducted over the phone.

For Manna House, executive director Kim Meatheany says the new walk-in freezer and refrigerator inside the facility are “back savers.” The Manna House volunteers used to unload food by hand, but the size of the new appliances allow the volunteers to push the food pallets right inside.

“Since we are all retired volunteers, back savers are what we need,” she laughs.

Gary McElroy, a long-time Manna House volunteer, says that the previous facility forced volunteers to move vegetables and canned good donations four or five times before being ready to hand out. The nonprofit was previously housed inside a 1,700 square feet white wooden house converted into a food pantry with room for only a few people at a time and shelves stocked to the ceiling with food donations. Now the volunteer no longer goes through a grueling, aching process to stock food; it’s all stocked and processed seamlessly with more storage available to hold more items.

“The new building has allowed us to store more pallets of food and receive more donations,” Meatheany says. “We can spread out and have specific stations for our volunteers to work without being in each other’s way.”

It not only has more space for all of their 50 volunteers, but it has also added more people into the food pantry rotation — a greeter, a file reviewer, distributors to process food donations, and baggers.

“These can be thankless jobs but they’re all something that has to be done,” McElroy says.

The white house was demolished to make room for the new building, which was constructed over the course of six months. In the meantime, the city of Russellville worked with Manna House and HELP Network to provide temporary space for the nonprofits to continue operations.

Despite the toil of construction, both of their services were only put on pause for a few weeks to move out and then into the new facility.

“We didn’t miss a whole lot of time,” McElroy says. “It took a lot of folks to help us, a lot of people pitched in, and we can’t say enough that nothing at Manna House would happen without volunteers. It’s just amazing that there are people who will step up.”

The helping hands are seeing more patrons and serving more food than ever. With around 350 families stopping by each week, more than five tons of food is being given out on a weekly basis during its daily handouts from 10 a.m. to noon.

With the need increasing, Meatheany echoes the sentiment. “I’m so proud of our volunteers that are so faithful and committed to this ministry,” she says. “They show up daily and prepare to serve our community. They listen to each patron, hear their stories, and fulfill their needs.”

Manna House always has a need for more volunteers and food donations. Though the church does support their mission, the nonprofit finds itself purchasing around $11,000 a month in canned goods when there is a lack of donations.

Donations are a similar need for HELP Network. Sarah Burgener, executive director of the HELP Network, says the best way to offer support is by becoming a one-time donor or setting up monthly donations. Money donated turns into keeping water, electricity, and other utilities on in local residents’ homes. HELP Network services extend to anyone in Pope, Johnson, and Yell Counties.

Since the pandemic set in, Burgener finds more and more people needing help, particularly with rent, utility and employment assistance. Currently, HELP Network is partnering with temporary agencies to keep up with the steady demand of unemployment and financial assistance. In the last month, the nonprofit has been able to provide 45 people with jobs.

“In one month, our client base went up 600 percent,” Burgener says. ”We’re still seeing a steady increase in clients, and I know Manna House has been as well. It seems like, as we’re getting closer to the end of the year, the need will rise.”

Burgener says she is thankful that the HELP Network does not have to worry about their own rent and utility assistance needs so that more money can go back into the community. With Manna House’s support, the nonprofit’s only expenses are telephone and internet bills.

“Those at Manna House have such kind hearts,” Burgener says. “They’re so passionate about giving back. I can’t speak enough praises about how wonderful they are to us. But they believe in the mission we have.”

That mission they share, and one that a community can fully support, is simply helping anyone who needs it.

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