Community soup
Manna Soup Kitchen struggles to meet demand

SideStory: Soup for the soul

Manna Soup Kitchen volunteer Bob Kennedy, left, preps some veggies while Jim McLaughlin, right  gets some PB&J’s ready for action on Tuesday morning. After more than 20 years on the frontlines in the local battle against hunger, Manna is facing tough times due to increased demand and decreased donations./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Will Sands

Durango is no stranger to hunger pains, and when it comes to feeding the hungry there is really only one game in town – the Manna Soup Kitchen. More and more Durangoans are turning to Manna for sustenance during these difficult economic times. However, the soup kitchen is also facing financial challenges of its own.

During the winter of 1986, a woman was found dead inside a horse stall at the

“We’re pretty much on the front lines of hunger in Durango,” said Sarah Comerford, Manna’s executive director. “This is sustenance for so many people in Durango. The fact is that without Manna, many people just wouldn’t eat.”

However, Manna is also facing the biggest challenges of its nearly quarter century life. Hunger is at an all-time high in Durango, and demand for food is beginning to outstrip the kitchen’s financial supply. During the month of September, Manna served up 4,333 meals, more thanLa Plata County Fairgrounds. She had scratched the words “nobody cares” into the stall’s wall just before succumbing to starvation. The Durango community responded that spring and founded the Manna Soup Kitchen, serving meals at the Spanish Assembly of God Church. Manna moved into its permanent home, at 1100 Avenida del Sol, in 2002 and Durango’s hungry have benefited from breakfasts and lunches complete with a modern kitchen, dining hall, laundry and shower facilities, and vegetable garden ever since.

“We’re serving approximately 30 percent more people than last year,” explained Comerford. “That’s coupled with the fact that our cash contributions are approximately 30 percent lower than last year. We’re feeding more with less.”

Comerford came on board at Manna two months ago, largely in an effort to reverse this trend. The hope is that her background in corporate and donor relations can boost the coffers at Manna and keep the food flowing in coming months and years. Considering that federal funding only accounts for $5,000 of the soup kitchen’s annual operating budget, private donors and foundation funding are currently in high demand.

“We get incredible amounts of food donated from local groceries, farms, restaurants and individuals,” said Warren Smith, Manna’s kitchen manager. “Our operating budget is another matter. We have the food but how are we going to keep the lights on?”

Manna is currently working to forge partnerships with other nonprofits and has started on the quest for grant funding. However, private donations are what really keep the ovens cooking at Manna, and the kitchen must once again reach out to the Durango community.

Food cans line the shelves at Manna. The soup kitchen recently started using “Care & Share,” a Southern Colorado food bank that charges 19 cents a pound for food. “The canned food drive is out,” said Manna Director Sarah Comerford after buying 808 pounds of food for just $135 last week./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

“I don’t even know what we’re going to look like next year,” Comerford said. “The fact is that we can’t depend on federal funds to keep Manna going.”

There are numerous bright points, however. Through a partnership with Care & Share, a food bank dedicated to ending hunger in Southern Colorado, Manna can leverage small financial donations into feasts. The food bank charges 19 cents a pound for food, a fact that enabled Smith to buy 808 pounds of food for only $135 last week.

“The canned food drive is out,” Smith said. “We can make the money go so much further though Care & Share.”

More than 450 volunteers from church groups, civic and private organizations, and businesses regularly turn out and cook, serve and clean at Manna. Since the soup kitchen’s inception, upwards of 1,700 Durangoans have pitched in in an effort to end hunger.

Manna’s menu may be the brightest point of all. In the last week, clients were treated to roasted beet salad complete with fresh cilantro and lime dressing; baked chicken, rice pilaf, gravy and salad; and a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings. Every lunch at Manna features fresh fruit salads, vegetable salads, cooked vegetable medleys, rice or potatoes, beef, fish, chicken or turkey. “Just because you’re poor or in a bad way right now doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a great meal,” Comerford said.

Smith concurred, saying, “These people are trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They deserve great food.”

And in response to skeptics, Smith, Comerford and each of Manna’s hundreds of volunteers know that rock bottom is never that far off for any of us. One accident or medical emergency are frequently the only things separating haves and have-nots.

“We’re here for you if you need us,” Comerford concluded. “The truth is, none of us ever knows when we could be the ones standing in a soup kitchen line.”



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