Every day Manna: Jacksonville Meals Pantry Comes By With “Daring Objective” – Information – The Florida Instances-Union

They line up on the sidewalk as early as 6 a.m. for a food distribution that begins four hours later.

On Tuesdays they are seniors aged 65 and over, some on scooters or pushers. On Fridays they are the general public, some unemployed, others unemployed. But for one reason or another, all of them do not have enough income to feed themselves and their families regularly.

You’ll need the boxes of free groceries – fresh produce, dairy, meat, bread, and other items – distributed weekly by the Daily Manna Serving Center, a department of the Jacksonville Worship Center on North Riverside.

Founded eight years ago by Pastor Gerald Dinkins of the Worship Center, the Pantry serves approximately 2,500 people a month and recently launched a program to help customers eat and live healthier lives. The program is backed by the 2017 Bold Goal coalition of health, nonprofit and government agencies led by Humana Inc., which aims to make Jacksonville 20 percent healthier by 2020.

“It is such a joy that God has truly blessed us and enabled us to do this,” said Dinkins.


The church was organized 23 years ago and the pantry followed eight years ago.

“You see the need,” said Dinkins. “God pushed me and said you had to do this.”

He started out by collecting excess groceries from a handful of grocery stores to be distributed in the neighborhoods around the church, which is on Edison Avenue, a few blocks from McCoy’s Creek. Now the pantry gets groceries from 20 grocers, community donations, and two regional food banks – Feeding Northeast Florida and Farm Share – and customers come from all over Northeast Florida.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville has launched the Bold Goal Initiative, which is also located in eight other communities across the country. The coalition identified Daily Manna as a local not-for-profit organization that was already working to improve the health of the population, set up a “delivery system” and easily enlist the support of Humana partners.

Last year, health educators from St. Vincent’s HealthCare, Baptist Health, UF Health, and other Humana partners began offering free diabetes education and screening, healthy cooking and eating courses, and exercise classes. The partners referred to other resources and made sure that Daily Manna customers are enrolled for any government benefits they can receive.

Diabetes education and screening are a key component as diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in the area, said Laura Nolan of Humana, co-chair of the Jacksonville Bold Goal Initiative. But people needed a boost to take the courses.

The question was, “How can we do it and do it differently … so people will hear it and really use it,” she said. “We wanted … to motivate people who come to the center.” The answer to that question – the “carrot” used to entice customers into class – is they don’t have to wait in line for their food, she said.

The key is also “influencer” Dinkins, who has built a trusting relationship with the community, she said.

“Pastor Dinkins … is an amazing person,” she said. “You are part of the solution.”

The coalition is tracking the success of the Daily Manna program through customer questionnaires using the healthy days metric developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The questionnaire asks people how many days they have felt physically or mentally unhealthy in the past month and how their activity has affected them. So far, results are positive, Nolan said, and the Bold Gold team could expand the program to other locations.


In the early years of Daily Manna, the pastor’s daughter Nicole Dinkins-Ealy was driving around Jacksonville with her father when he was collecting groceries from stores. Now she runs the pantry as operations manager. The family mantra is, when you help one person, you are helping the community, she said.

“You do what God wants,” she said. “I love it. I love being here.”

The line never gets shorter. New faces complement the faces that have become regulars. While waiting in line for groceries, vendors make sure they are getting all the legitimate benefits, such as: B. Grocery stamps. But those who are getting food stamps or other public support also need additional help to get through, Dinkins-Ealy said.

Also, many families have several generations in the same household, with seniors raising grandchildren. So the healthy cooking and eating courses have far-reaching implications.

“They didn’t know what the effect of preparing food was,” said Dinkins-Ealy.

The recipients are grateful.

“It’s a blessing,” said Jerome Yancey, a retired recipient who also volunteers in the pantry.

Some motorists passing the line “look down on us,” he said, noting that only “economic differences” separate such judgmental individuals from those on the line.

But visits to the Manna Center usually represent the good in humankind, said Bobbie Cox, another retired recipient and volunteer who shares his meal with neighbors.

“It helps each other and our neighbors,” he said. “Every little bit helps.”

Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109

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