MANNA soup kitchen marks 30 years; concert set for Friday

MANNA Soup Kitchen to mark anniversary with Friday concert

  • Head Chef Robert Saalfrank, left, adds garnishes to a bowl of rice noodles donated by River Valley Co-op, as Hannah Morehouse, of Northampton, removes other donations from its packaging while they prepare for a MANNA Soup Kitchen meal Saturday at Edwards Church. It is MANNA's 30th anniversary. She has been a volunteer for about 20 years. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Laura Kowal, of Northampton, serves Steve Graves during a MANNA Soup Kitchen meal Saturday at Edwards Church in Northampton. Kowal serves at the meals three times each week and has been a volunteer for eight years. JERREY ROBERTS

  • Steve Graves eats during a MANNA Soup Kitchen meal Saturday at Edwards Church. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Head Chef Robert Saalfrank adds garnishes to a bowl of rice noodles donated by River Valley Co-op while preparing for a MANNA Soup Kitchen meal Saturday at Edwards Church in Northampton. It is MANNA's 30th anniversary. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Hazel Tenner, of Florence, cleans up the kitchen Saturday during a MANNA Soup Kitchen meal at Edwards Church. She has been a volunteer for about five years. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Head chef Robert Saalfrank removes green peppers from a pan while preparing a MANNA Soup Kitchen meal Saturday at Edwards Church in Northampton. MANNA marks its 30th anniversary this year. JERREY ROBERTS

  • Head Chef Robert Saalfrank adds yellow squash to a pan of zucchini while preparing a MANNA Soup Kitchen meal Saturday at Edwards Church in Northampton. It is MANNA's 30th anniversary. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Head Chef Robert Saalfrank, left, says a prayer before a MANNA Soup Kitchen meal Saturday at Edwards Church in Northampton. It is MANNA's 30th anniversary. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Head Chef Robert Saalfrank cuts barbequed chicken while preparing for a MANNA Soup Kitchen meal Saturday at Edwards Church in Northampton. It is MANNA's 30th anniversary. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Naomi Tannen, board member of MANNA Soup Kitchen, talks with the board's president, Carl Erickson, during one of the soup kitchen's meals Saturday at Edwards Church. JERREY ROBERTS

  • Eddie Hanlon and Ilona Murray, of Easthampton, talk during a MANNA Soup Kitchen meal Saturday at Edwards Church in Northampton. JERREY ROBERTS—

@amandadrane
Published: 4/23/2016 4:27:47 PM

NORTHAMPTON — At MANNA Soup Kitchen, there’s no such thing as having too little to give.

Heads bow on Saturday as MANNA’s chef, Bob Saalfrank, rattles off the lunchtime menu items — roasted chicken, rice, sauteed zucchini, and local greens — and says grace.

“Dear Lord, we thank you for this day,” Saalfrank said.

At the “Amen,” chairs squeaked across the linoleum floors of the basement room in Edwards Church as guests wasted no time in lining up for the meal. Saturday’s list had about 40 names, and that’s a “light day,” said organizers. Normally there are between 50 and 60 people at every meal. There are typically more guests toward the end of the month, Saalfrank and the board members said, because that’s when their money starts running out.

MANNA serves over 15,000 free meals a year, and this year the nonprofit celebrates its 30th anniversary.

“All my life I’ve liked to help people, and a good way to help them is to feed them,” said Carl Erickson, who has served as MANNA’s volunteer board president for 25 years. “No one should go hungry.”

Stephen Graves, 65, of Northampton would agree with that statement. He has been coming to MANNA since its inception. He said that for 25 years he helped wash dishes and set up tables, but now he just comes to eat.

“I love the free food,” Graves said, smiling and diving into his plate full of chicken, rice and potato salad.

Three meals a week

MANNA serves three meals per week — Mondays at noon at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Northampton, Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at Edwards Church and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. at Edwards Church. Guests are invited to eat their fill — seconds and thirds are common and people even take hefty packages with them. The nonprofit also hosts a handful of special meals, like those held on Thanksgiving and Christmas. It survives off donations and also receives funding from Shelter Sunday, Valley Gives, Project Bread, and Community Development Block Grants.

Saalfrank himself used the resources provided by MANNA for years after he lost his job in 1986. When asked why he continues to volunteer, cooking and procuring food donations from local businesses for about 30 hours a week, Saalfrank answered: “the joy to see everybody that has a good appetite. And the friendship and the fellowship.”

Eddie Hanlon and his girlfriend, Ilona Murray, said they volunteer six days a week. Hanlon, who worked as a chef for 38 years, will sometimes fill in for Saalfrank if he’s sick.

“We like to be with people on the streets,” said Hanlon, 75, of Easthampton. “If there was a bus on Sundays I’d be here more.”

Murray, 54, is from Germany originally and said it’s rewarding to help out the community that’s provided for her.

“I like to give back to my country because it gave me so much,” she said.

High-quality

Most of the food MANNA serves comes from the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, but they also get donated food from Stop & Shop, Big Y, and River Valley Co-op. The board recently connected with Smith College dormitories, which a few months ago began donating extra food on a weekly basis — a point of quality not lost on the guests.

One regular diner feels so strongly about MANNA’s meals that he donates 10 percent of his panhandling earnings to the kitchen. Gerry, a homeless man who declined to give his last name for fear he’d be a target on the streets, said he typically eats one meal per day at one soup kitchen or another.

“The food quality is better, here — they get food from Smith, now,” said Gerry, adding that means a lot when the meals need to count. “Sometimes I’m quite satiated and sometimes I’m hungry in a few hours — it depends on the meal that was served.”

Not every soup kitchen serves food like this, another diner notes.

“I love this place,” said Cait Brown. “The food is great — we’ve been to some places where they serve the same stuff they serve in jail.”

And here, Brown said, she feels like she’s treated like an equal.

“Here we don’t get treated like homeless scum,” she said, looking at her husband, David Brown, who nods in agreement. “In some places you can see the disdain on their faces — it’s refreshing to know that places like this exist, where they let you take (food) home, which is nice especially when you don’t have a home.”

Always enough

MANNA may be a pillar in the community, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have struggles of its own. Board member Naomi Tannen recalled how recently the nonprofit only had $2.50 in its bank account.

“The board was very calm under Carl’s direction, but being new on the board I was scared,” Tannen said.

That was in December, she said.

“At the moment we’re solvent,” said Tannen.

Miraculously, Erickson said, the kitchen always has enough food.

“Bob’s a miracle worker,” said Erickson. “If he doesn’t have enough food he does a little blessing and it magically multiplies.”

Like the biblical story of manna from heaven, Tannen said, “God provides.”

Steve Curry, the mealtime greeter, has spina bifida. He has tried for years since graduating from Westfield State College to find a job as a social worker to no avail, he said. Instead, MANNA helps him to fulfill his passion for helping people, he said, sitting in his wheelchair by the entrance, ensuring guests sign in and are sufficiently greeted in the process.

“It helps people stretch their limited incomes,” said Curry, who lives off disability checks. “I’d gladly give up all that (disability money) for an actual paycheck.”

Tannen said her favorite part of doing this work is listening to the stories.

“Here you get to know (panhandlers) as people and not just people who when you see them you avert your eyes,” said Tannen.

Hannah Morehouse, 83, said her reasons for volunteering are simple.

“Jesus said ‘Do unto others ...’ and that’s what I try to do,” said Morehouse.

The organization will mark its 30th anniversary with a concert featuring Northampton High School’s a cappella group, the Northamptones on Friday at 7 p.m. at Edwards Church, 297 Main St. in Northampton. The concert is free, but donations will be accepted to help keep MANNA running. To mark the occasion later in the year, Tannen said she’s also organizing an ice cream giveaway and a fall fundraising concert.

Donations can also be made on the organization’s website, mannasoupkitchennorthampton.org.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.




Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2019 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy