Debbie Croft: Mariposa’s Manna House sees increase in needy

After hearing recently how Oakhurst’s Manna House food pantry is struggling, I decided to check with the nonprofit organization.

Manna House is a Christian ministry in Oakhurst and Mariposa started in 1984 by a group of local pastors. Each organization operates separately, with a board, a group of volunteers and a budget of its own. They provide emergency food for needy community members.

Earlier this week I stopped by the Mariposa operation. Nancy Seed greeted me and, after hearing the reason for my visit, suggested I speak with Charlotte Hoffman, who was temporarily busy with a couple of donors. Both Seed and Hoffman are volunteers and have or are currently serving on the board of directors.

Two small buildings house the office and pantry-storage space. In the reception area, brochures, magazines, books and Bibles. Community information is posted on the walls and bulletin board.

Vegetables from a garden at the back of the property had been mostly harvested. Clients who enjoy gardening take turns with weeding and watering.

When Hoffman was free, she shared with me the challenge facing Manna House. “The organization currently does have plenty of food,” she said, “but lately more people are coming in for help.”

Compared with four years ago, the numbers of those receiving assistance every month have increased by 100. In August 2009, 753 individuals received food. Last month, 850 people required assistance.

Donations arrive from various sources.

“It seems like we always have stuff coming in,” Seed observed.

Both women praised Mariposa businesses, churches and residents for the way they continue to support the organization. “Anytime there’s a need, they step up,” Hoffman said.

Boy Scouts hold a yearly canned food drive, and Pioneer Market donates cases of food regularly.

Monetary donations are used to keep shelves stocked.

Terry and Mary Loughran have served as co-presidents of Manna House for seven years. “Pioneer Market takes care of us,” Mary Loughran said. “This community is wonderful – very generous.”

When an abundance of food comes in and must be distributed quickly, Manna House shares the surplus with other nonprofits in the area. Sometimes the market freezes perishable items until they’re needed.

A woman stopped in to pick up a three-day supply of groceries for her father and herself. Her job had ended, and she’s now looking for a new one. Hoffman went over items on the list, asking what she would like. As Hoffman placed items in bags, the woman kept voicing her thanks.

Ripe pomegranates, apples and plums from a local garden had been donated. Packages of sliced ham were also available that day.

A few varieties of cold cereal, plus oats are typically on hand. Also, cans of vegetables, beans, tuna and soup, dry beans and pasta, peanut butter, jelly, boxes of macaroni and cheese, bread, eggs, margarine and meat. Fresh produce comes in seasonally from local growers.

Clients are allowed one visit per month.

“But sometimes we allow two,” Mary said. “And for those with large families, we give them extra items.”

Hoffman said they’re a little concerned about cuts in the food stamp program, and how that could affect the situation locally.

Volunteers work one four-hour shift a month, with an occasional added shift during a fund drive with neighboring businesses. True Value Hardware holds charity events, and Chocolate Soup provides gift certificates for a raffle during its holiday open house. Of course, more volunteers and donations are always needed.

At Christmas and Easter, baskets are filled with a complete holiday dinner to be given away. Manna House combines efforts with the Mariposa Sheriff’s Office for its annual Christmas toy drive. The nonprofit organization works closely with The Salvation Army and other local agencies when nonfood items are requested.

Shoe vouchers are given to school-age children in the fall. Diapers are sometimes provided, as well as pet food.

Mariposa’s Manna House is at 5127 Charles St. For more information, call (209)742-7985.

At a time when so many families are struggling, it’s good to see how one community is reaching out.