Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Right here in Franklin, many families fall within that definition. The MANNA FoodBank, which has been providing free food in Franklin monthly for the past several months, set up shop at the old Kmart plaza on Monday, giving away two truckloads of fruits, vegetables, canned goods, juices, snacks and bread through their pop-up market. MANNA is a private, not-for-profit service organization, that links the food industry with over 200 partner agencies in 16 counties of WNC. MANNA is an acronym and stands for Mountain Area Nutritional Needs Alliance.
Folks started lining up in front of the old Kmart at 8 am, even though the event didn’t start until 2 p.m. Many feared that there would not be enough food for all the residents who might show up, because that was the case at last month’s pop-up market. As hard as they try to estimate the needs of those who suffer from food insecurity, sometimes event organizers fall short. An estimated 650 residents lined up at the Community Center last month, for January’s pop-up market. The folks at MANNA had not been prepared for the onslaught of families in need, due to underestimating how many folks would come out to get free food in the cold and rainy weather. The food ran out before everyone in line was able to get some.
The folks at MANNA promised that at February’s pop-up market there would be plenty of food for all who showed up. They made good on their promise providing more than enough food for the more than 500 residents who braved the cold, windy rain to get food for their family that they would otherwise not be able to provide, without this assistance from MANNA.
One family who was on line at the pop-up from 11 a.m. spoke about why she is so grateful for this free food from MANNA. A.B. is a mother of two young boys, ages two and four. Her husband works as a law enforcement officer with the Park Ranger Services. She stays home to take care of the two children.
“We just barely make ends meet and having the chance to get some extra food allows us to be able to pay our bills, that we might not be able to afford without this help,” she said. “Last month I was not able to get to the pop-up market, but I did go to some local churches that were kind enough to help me out with some extra food for the kids. This event is a lifesaver for my family.”
R.B. is another stay at home mom with four children and one on the way. She has also been showing up at the pop- up market for the past several months. Her husband works as a carpenter but earns enough money for only the basics.
“Last month I had to leave when they ran out of food. Although I was there early, the line in the community center was confusing and I was pushed to the back of the line. They ran out of food before I was able to get any. Coming here is a big lifesaver for my family as I am able to get my children some extra juice and vegetables that otherwise they would have to go without,” she said.
Monday’s event was much more organized than last month’s market. Felicia Roberts, Family and Communications Outreach Specialist at MPP began handing out numbers to those who showed up early and the only way to get into the market was to show your number to the volunteers. Once inside there was no limit on the amount of food you could take home. Many folks came with folding carts to lug all the groceries to their car. Several senior citizens spoke about how difficult it was to stretch their Social Security money every month. Grandparents who were caring for their grandchildren were also grateful for the extra help this pop- up market offered them. Volunteers from all over town were available to help cart the food to residents’ cars. MANNA is dedicated to continue to provide this pop-up market for as long as it is needed and as long as they are able to provide the food. This pop-up served 598 individuals including 177 households and some community resource agencies as well. MANNA distributed more than 18,000 lbs. of food at the market.
The next pop-up market will be in March and fliers will be posted at schools, the library and on Facebook announcing the time and place of the next MANNA pop-up market.