By Lee Hurley

Manna is, according to the Bible, an edible substance, which God provided for the Israelites during their 40 year travels in the desert. Hence the term Manna from heaven. And hence the name Manna Ministries.  Manna Ministries was born 37 years ago in Alabaster resident Don Smith’s driveway after he had a calling to feed people in need. Smith and his family ran Manna until 1987 when volunteers started to join. In 1994, it became a 501©(3) non-profit. Although the organization has changed leaders over the years, its mission remains the same. Sam Charif, Manna’s current President, answered a few questions about the organization and its role in Alabaster.

AC: Tell us about you, Sam?

SC: I’m 43 years old, have three children, and own and operate a childcare center in Helena. I love seeing children learn, grow, and make positive impacts on our society.

AC: What exactly does Manna do?

SC: We provide nutrition, groceries, and general foods to those who face food insecurities.

AC: Where do you get the food from?

SC: Foods are rescued from local stores like Publix, Aldi, and Walmart who otherwise would throw it out. We also purchase food from the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama at a reduced price. And of course, we depend on the community’s support with canned food drives, pantry donations, and more.

AC: How is Manna Ministries set up?

SC: Manna is run by an eight-member board, three-member advisory board, and volunteers. There are no paid staff. Each of us has an area we handle all while working our regular careers. Our board members are Caroline Bullard, Cindy Hilbrich, Melanie Siow, Shannon Johnson, Joanne Fondren, Pat Taylor, and Andy Wared. Advisory Board Members are Phyllis Harbin, Erian Adair, and Loralyn Watson. These amazing people give their time, money, and hearts to make Manna happen each week.  Our volunteers come from all over the community.

AC: How do you get food to the people that need it?

SC: We have a drive-through operation every Saturday morning. Our parking lot opens at 6:50 a.m., and the drive through runs from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Somehow in that short time, we manage to serve 400 plus families each week with those numbers climbing around the holidays. We are closed most major holidays to allow our board and volunteers time to spend with their families.

AC: How do you raise money?

SC: We are 100 percent run from donations. Funding comes from individuals, businesses, and grants. We are lucky to have such a giving community, but we always need more.

AC: Do you need food donated?

SC: We always need canned foods, boxed goods, and non-perishable food items. We also have an outdoor pantry called Rebecca’s Box. It is located directly outside the doors of our building. This pantry is available for immediate and emergency needs. We depend on the community to maintain the foods in this box. We rely on the old adage, “take what you need and leave what you can.”

AC:  What do your volunteers do?

SC: Pick up donated food and goods, sort these items, unload trucks, and load donations into the vehicles. We have volunteers who sign in clients, pray with clients, park cars, and so much more. There are a lot of hands that come together to make Manna successful each week. We could always use more though! Many hands make light work

AC: What is Manna Farms?

SC:  Manna Farms is our sister location currently operating out of Limestone Park in Alabaster. They are an extension of Manna Ministries. They grow fruits and vegetables to be given to those coming to Manna for food assistance.

AC:  Can you give us an idea of how many people in central Alabama suffer from food insecurity?

SC: Per the Community Food Bank of Alabama there are 1 in 5 adults in Alabama facing food insecurity and 1 in 4 children facing food insecurity. The need is big and ever increasing.

AC: Do the schools get involved?

SC: Absolutely. Schools will hold canned food drives throughout the school year. And school groups will come out and serve at Manna. It is such a blessing to be able to watch the youth give back to their community.

AC: Did the pandemic bring on an extra need for food?

SC: From 2020 to 2021 we saw a 25 percent yearly increase in families being served at Manna. The expectation is that from 2021 to 2022 that number has grown even higher. Inflation and general struggles has caused this increase in need.

AC: What else should we have asked?

SC: As I said we are an all-volunteer organization. All monetary donations are used to purchase foods to be given away to those in need. Any funding not put towards food purchases is used for general operating expenses. All donations are tax deductible.
When you support a grass roots organization such as Manna, you are directly supporting your neighbors, friends, and family. Manna requires no documentation to receive foods. We have no residency restriction. There is no income requirement. The only obligation is to sign in each week and to complete a simple USDA form once a year.

To donate, volunteer or simply get more information:

Manna Ministries
333 Smokey Road
Alabaster, Al 35007