May 28, 2019

The Great Volunteer Experience at MANNA

I was introduced to MANNA about five years ago through my employment with PECO. PECO is a strong supporter of many community organizations, and actively encourages employees to do the same. PECO has a long-standing relationship with MANNA, providing sponsorship and generously organizing employee groups to participate in occasional volunteer activities during work hours. Throughout my life, I have always been involved in many various volunteer opportunities, and MANNA has now become my favorite! First and foremost, because of their mission – preparing and delivering delicious and nutritious meals to people with illnesses who need this help.  As a lover of food, it saddens me to know that so many people do not have access to the basic food they need. And as someone who loves to cook but has never worked in the food industry, the chance to work in an awesome commercial kitchen is a special treat!

When I first learned about MANNA’s amazing Thanksgiving program, I definitely wanted to participate. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday; some of my most treasured early memories were of shopping for and preparing the Thanksgiving meal with my mother. It was her favorite holiday as well, and she taught me how to make the very special Pennsylvania Dutch potato bread stuffing that has always been the star of the holiday meal in our family! My mom has been gone for 37 years, but I still miss her and somehow doing this makes me feel close to her. So for the last several years, my daughter, son-in-law, and I have volunteered for a Thanksgiving morning shift in the MANNA kitchen before going home to prepare our own holiday meal. The first time I saw that process, I was in awe! The well-oiled machine of volunteer shifts starts at 6:00 am, and by 1:00 pm hundreds of volunteer drivers are off to deliver thousands of sumptuous holiday meals to clients. Before I became familiar with MANNA, I guess I thought of a “charity” meal as possibly basic or sub-par. That was certainly a very erroneous assumption! MANNA provides excellent meals planned and prepared by professional chefs as well as volunteers, all from scratch using fresh high-quality ingredients. That holiday meal includes everything you would expect at any fine dining establishment or family home, turkey with gravy and all the fixings, vegetables, pies, you name it! It warms my heart to know that people in need receive this feast. And it’s not just for Thanksgiving; the quality is there in the thousands of meals they prepare and deliver EVERY DAY!

Aside from the absolute value of providing these meals to clients, there is the added significance of the wonderful feeling that comes from doing this thing that is so important. Every time I work in the kitchen I learn something from either the MANNA staff or other volunteers who have extensive food preparation experience, such as knife skills, the proper technique for chopping vegetables or cutting meats, etc. So it’s definitely a win-win situation, with benefits for the recipients of the meals as well as a learning and growth experience for the volunteers. Plus the camaraderie of getting to know the people at MANNA as well as working with other volunteers from all walks of life.

Now that I am retired (Yay, I highly recommend it!), I look forward to volunteering at MANNA more often. Please share this information with anyone who wants to try a unique and gratifying volunteer experience!

Gayle Shapiro