An idea that started out as leftover bread for chickens has evolved into Neighbor to Neighbor, a food donation program in Manawa that has provided 1,900 meals since March to thankful residents.
By Brenda Vander Zanden, Co-Director, Neighbor to Neighbor Meals of Manawa
Neighbor to Neighbor Meals of Manawa began as a “serendipitous happenstance,” but its effects have been far reaching in the Manawa community.
My co-director Brenda Thyssen and her husband Mike visited a church in the Fox Valley that hosts a community food pantry program. After church, they were offered leftover bread for their chickens. Conversations evolved and it became apparent the pantry’s issue – what to do with excess foods (pantries have to pay by the pound to get rid of excesses) – could be our solution for how to support families with need in the Manawa Area School District.
Local grocery stores donate their less-than-perfect items to food pantries. After the food pantries do their distribution, they still have excess food remaining that they need to get rid of for the following week’s donations. These excesses are still in date or just expiring. We have all seen meat packages sporting the bright discount stickers. These meats are still perfectly good; they just need to be cooked soon or frozen for future use.
These are the foods we began hauling back to Manawa. Cases and cases of beef, poultry, pork, turkey, vegetables, fruit, bread and bakery, all ready to distribute. We contacted local area food pantries to come and take advantage of the bounty, and even then there was an amazing amount of food still available. We then contacted families in the area who we know struggle. They came and picked up food, and there was still food available. We then contacted friends and neighbors, and even after they were fed, we still had leftovers.
To see this process in action is literally like watching the Fishes and Loaves scripture from Matthew come alive before your eyes, with the 12 baskets of leftovers.
Brenda and I talked and prayed about how we could further bless people with this food. God’s answer was Neighbor to Neighbor, evidenced by every anticipated obstacle resolving without issue and every need being provided.
Here are just a few initial examples:
- Insurance covered our program, even though some cooks/bakers are not church members. “Isn’t that what churches are supposed to do is feed people?”
- “Red tape” within our denomination – NONE.
- Ask people to volunteer – no one has said no. More volunteers have come forward.
- We need freezers to store, organize, rotate meals – the COVID-19 Community Response Fund came forward with a grant to cover it.
- We needed dedicated 20 amp breakers for the freezers – that is just what the receptacles are in our 150-yr old church building. No electrical upgrades needed.
- Waupaca County Appliance Grant heard about our program. We applied and were given a convertible freezer/refrigerator for fresh produce storage.
- We needed additional freezers for raw protein storage – we had two large chest freezers donated to our program from a Facebook Marketplace seller.
We talked from the beginning that “NEED” goes beyond financial circumstances. Those experiencing medical illness or surgical recovery, family loss, chemo patients, elderly, veterans, kids to feed, and more. Whether short or long term, need is need. There are no forms to complete to receive food, and no judgement made.
Food manufacturers are now contacting Neighbor to Neighbor directly with their excess. One recently donated 10 cases of all beef sausage kielbasa, 40 cases of smoked chicken sausages, and six cases of breakfast sausage. Do you see why we need freezers?
Since March 2nd of this year, we have distributed over 1,900 meals. Participants receive a frozen meal that serves four to six people, along with reheating instructions.
Recipients express profound gratitude for the meals, and our local elderly and disabled veterans are especially thankful to have a dependable meal source.
Sustainability is now our focus. Everyone assisting Neighbor to Neighbor is a volunteer; there are no paid positions. Finding sponsorships for our monthly supplies is key to the program’s sustainability. Our goal is to build a reserve that could fund the program for one year if our support were ever to end.
Donations can be dropped off in Manawa at Hello Beautiful, 329 S. Bridge St.; or the Busy Bean, 343 S. Bridge St. For more information or to support Neighbor to Neighbor Meals of Manawa, contact Brenda Vander Zanden. This program is supported by a grant from the COVID-19 Community Response Fund, established by the Community Foundation and United Way Fox Cities.