As I share news of my new position as Executive Director of Manna Food Center, I emphasize to friends and colleagues the word “center.” While Manna’s role is to serve as the main food bank of Montgomery County in Maryland, we also provide education to and advocate for policies that make the elimination of hunger more than wishful thinking. Manna is so much more than a food bank. As we enter our fourth decade, Manna’s staff, Board, and volunteers have a vision of our agency as a center of collaboration that synergizes the work of many different groups. We believe in the power of community.
Manna’s work with local farmers is a great example of community collaboration. Each growing season we purchase and collect fresh produce from local farmers’ markets. We expand upon that with our farm share initiative with Red Wiggler and One Acre farms allowing us to provide more than 215,000 pounds of healthy, fresh, locally grown produce for Manna clients. Our new partnership with Farm to Freezer allows us to store produce to distribute in the winter months when these fruits and vegetables are not readily available. I realize, though, that these types of collaborations may not be a new idea to many readers. As a center, Manna both helps to foster and replicate innovations.
For Manna, collaboration begins at home. We have a stellar team of almost two dozen staff who come together each day to ensure that every person who comes to Manna in need leaves with food and filled with hope. I am so proud to be joining such a center of service, and know I have much to learn from veterans like Blanche Hall, a distribution worker who joined Manna more than a decade ago, and Angela Whitmal, our Director of Administration, who is about to mark her 8th anniversary with the agency. I’m also looking forward to building the team with fresh perspectives such as those of Lindsey Seegers, a recent addition to our nutrition education team. Julio Huacache is another newcomer, and as I shadow Julio on his driving routes I am sure we will swap new insights into how best to reach Manna’s clients.
Whether it is with the staff or among stakeholders in Manna’s service area, my approach to building a center of collaboration serves as a testament to the many teams I’ve been privileged to serve on over the years doing economic justice work. Some guiding principles I use:
- Get as many diverse perspectives as possible around the literal and figurative table
- Look for the win-win solution to every opportunity and challenge
- Assume good intentions and operate in good faith, but don’t be taken advantage of by those who don’t reciprocate
- Use questions in a spirit of appreciative inquiry to figure out what’s working and what matters
- Create space for listening and make sure all voices can be heard
- Decide in advance how to manage conflict and celebrate success.
To function truly as a center of service, education, and advocacy, Manna will need the team spirit of our fellow agencies and stakeholders. I invite you to share your ideas and your approach. My first full day on the job is September 9, 2013. You can reach me at Jackie@mannafood.org or with a call to 240-268-2524. I look forward to finding ways to eliminate hunger together.