Ministering to the stomach, from the heart

Ministering to the stomach, from the heart
Church’s ambitious grocery-assistance program was inspired by need — the founder’s own

By Liz Skalski
The Gazette
Thursday, November 19, 2009


A Bowie church’s ministry campaign is banking on generosity to feed 500 families for one week.

Members of Manna Ministries at New Song Bible Fellowship Church in Bowie hope to reach their goal of $15,000 in donations by Dec. 4 so that 500 boxes of food — enough to feed 500 families of four for one week — can be donated next month to Washington area families in need through its first “Feed the 500” campaign.

“I can’t feed 5,000 — God did that. I can just feed 500,” Manna Ministries founder and director Tracy Robison said. Manna Ministries, a nonprofit ministry of New Song Bible Fellowship Church, is a once-a-month grocery relief program that Robison founded two years ago soon after relying on a charity’s help with groceries.

Robison acknowledges that the economy might make it hard for people to donate but said current financial struggles are why the need for donations is even greater.

“People can’t afford to do everything like they used to,” she said. “What I’m hoping is that people can afford to give me some $30 checks: Take one gift off of your Christmas list and feed a family for a week.”

The church is an affiliate of the national nonprofit organization Angel Food, which buys food at discounted prices from food producers and vendors and ships it across the United States.

Robison, 46, of Hyattsville said about 10 people have donated about $5,000 so far. All donated funds are used for boxes and food, which includes fresh and frozen items such as chicken, meat and produce.

“We are going to give until we can’t give anymore,” she said. “Through this event, we want to put the joy back into Christmas for people.”

The ministry is asking offices of Maryland’s Department of Social Services and schools to identify people in need.

“We are looking for individuals and corporate sponsors to help us assist the families in our neighborhoods, in our community,” Robison said. “We don’t want to turn anyone away.”

Robison’s sister, Marina Brown, 55, of Laurel is a volunteer for Manna Ministries and the Feed the 500 campaign.

“Wherever we end up, there are some people who are going to get food that weren’t going to get it initially,” Brown said. “We are feeding them physically and giving them food to nourish them, but also hoping for the chance to nourish them spiritually, and that’s the greatest gift.”

Nicole Chapman, 29, of Upper Marlboro is a Manna Ministries volunteer who donated to the campaign.

“We want to make an impact and help as many people as we can,” Chapman said. “I encourage more people to donate. It’ll be a blessing to them.”

Chapman suggested donating a week’s worth of money usually spent at Starbucks or McDonald’s. She declined to say how much she donated.

Veria Hairston, 47, of Laurel donated $100.

“People need to eat, and it’s rough times, and it’s just something that everybody should do,” she said. Manna Ministries “doesn’t want anything in return — they want to see people happy and to have a meal.”

New Song Bible Fellowship’s pastor, Bernard Fuller, commended the collection campaign.

“It’s something from the heart to give back to those in need, and if they have the means and can help a family during this season, it’s a good act of love to do that,” he said.

Robison said she hopes people will continue to sponsor families through the monthly food program.

Robison, who said she began using Angel Food in June 2007 to make ends meet after coming out of foreclosure and into a new job, launched Manna Ministries in November 2007. Her program, which has about 25 volunteers, serves about 200 families per month in the metropolitan area to help make life easier and cabinets fuller for other struggling families. Manna Ministries receives $1 from Angel Food for every box of food sold through the program.

There are no applications or income requirements to participate. Customers order their food boxes from each month’s menu, and food boxes are delivered to the church one Saturday each month.

Robison spends at least 30 hours each month on the ministry, from volunteer meetings to collecting orders and food distribution, in addition to her full-time job as a customer service representative for Metro in Hyattsville.


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