By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
As Manna Pantry prepares to commemorate its 45th anniversary feeding Yukon’s hungry, its founder and longtime volunteer reflects on the impact the emergency food cupboard has had.
“The Manna Pantry has done so much good in our community,” Peggy Long said. “In all the years I was involved, we were always able to help people and never turned anyone away. We always made sure people had food who didn’t have a way to cook.
“It was always rewarding,” Long said about feeding Yukon’s hungry. “This is just a wonderful community.”
In the mid-‘70s, Long was serving as a social worker in Canadian County.
Her duties included making sure people who applied for help really needed it – and visiting homes of foster children.
Long noticed a lack of access to food for those of her clients who were hungry. She would go to grocery stores and the Salvation Army – and even call on friends – seeking donated food.
Long decided to approach Resurrection Lutheran Church pastor Ed Schlachtenhousen, asking what could be done to help feed Yukon’s hungry.
It was pastor Schlachtenhousen who suggested opening a free food store inside a closet in the church’s front hall, 675 W Vandament.
And that’s how it became known as the “Manna Pantry.”
The pantry inside Resurrection Lutheran Church was stocked with food donations from church members, local stores and the Salvation Army.
Hungry residents knew they could call or come by when the church was open to receive free food when they needed it.
Within two years, Manna Pantry had outgrown its space at Resurrection Lutheran Church and moved to Yukon’s First Christian Church at 601 Maple.
About 20 years ago, volunteers remodeled a First Christian Church-owned house to serve as Manna Pantry’s “new” home.
That approximate 1,000 square foot structure, on the northeast corner of Sixth and Maple, remains Manna Pantry’s headquarters.
Donna Weber served as the volunteer director for about 10 years, noting the pantry’s growth “every year” as the demand for its services grew between the mid-2000s and mid-2010s.
“I loved it!” Weber said. “I’ll always remember being able to be there to help the people when they came in.
“We ever helped them if they needed a blanket. We had an elderly lady who was so cold, so one of our volunteers went home and got her a warm blanket.”
During the period Weber was director, the pantry was open five times weekly and had 80 to 90 dedicated volunteers.
The service that Yukon’s emergency food cupboard provides was critical then – and is even more vital now with more hungry souls to nourish.
“It’s extremely important,” Weber said. “There’s just so many families that just can’t make it from payday to payday. And many of those families have children.”
LARGER SPACE NEEDED
Even after an expansion, Yukon’s food cupboard has simply outgrown its current location. Manna Pantry is now led by Sherri Rogers, who became the new director last October.
“We serve an average of 300-400 families a month and are open eight times a week,” said Rogers, who’s volunteered about 10 years. “We pretty much use every inch of space and need a much larger place near downtown.”
Recipients can come twice each month to receive food from the pantry, 123 S 6th. Nobody is turned away if they’re hungry.
“Ninety-nine-point nine percent of our clients are always very humble and appreciative,” Rogers said.
Through the Regional Food Bank, Manna Pantry offers a wide range of healthy, fresh options to its clients.
“We’re ‘client choice’,” Rogers said. “They will walk out with eight to 10 bags of grocery with fresh produce.”
Manna Pantry’s volunteer leader isn’t worried that some clients may be taking advantage of other people’s generosity.
“I’m doing what God wants me to do,” Rogers said. “What they (clients) do with it is up to them.”
Manna Pantry now has about 250 volunteers and relies heavily on donations from the Regional Food Bank, church and civic groups and individuals.
Among the greatest sources of food items are Yukon-area grocery stores and restaurants.
“We have 28 retail pick-ups a week,” Rogers said.
LOTS OF DONATIONS
Founding director Long fondly recalled when the Yukon Post Office began participating in the annual Letter Carriers Food Drive – a tradition that continues each spring.
“When the mail carriers started bringing in all the donations, we were asking ‘What are we going to do with all that food?’” Long said.
Current director Rogers replied, “We still have that problem! We don’t have enough space to store all the food that’s donated.”
Manna Pantry has set a goal to collect 30,000 pounds of food during this year’s Letter Carriers Food Drive set Saturday, May 9. About 100 volunteers are expected to help gather, sort and weigh all the food items.
“It’s quite a production!” Rogers said.
While providing food for people in Yukon and Piedmont, Manna Pantry volunteers also connects their clients with other resources if they need clothing or financial help.
Manna Pantry is planning a celebration this March to mark its 45th anniversary in Yukon.
As part of the commemoration, former director Weber encourages people to “come volunteer” at the pantry – while hoping a larger place can be secured.
“Just remember that none of us are paid,” she said. “Manna Pantry is totally made up of volunteers.
“I just wish they could make enough space for the clients.”
Learn more about Yukon’s community food cupboard by calling 265-0193 or visiting www.mannapantryyukon.org