The nonprofit has always followed the numbers, and the data has led to its latest initiatives, MO Packs for Kids and MO Packs for Teachers.
Manzanita Outreach is all about the logistics. When it comes to food insecurity, the organization’s leadership believes there isn’t so much a food problem as a distribution problem that requires distribution solutions.
Since 2017, the organization has been led by Mike Newcomb, whose background includes extensive expertise in distribution and logistics. That know-how was put to work at Manzanita Outreach, resulting in pop-up “food sharing” events throughout Verde Valley. These events have been strategically scheduled and located to serve the areas that need them the most.
“We are different because we are mobile and can scale up to bring food to neighborhoods, underserved communities, and the homes of our neighbors,” said Director of Operations Ben Burke.
In the years prior to the COVID outbreak, Manzanita Outreach had expanded its food assistance program in communities throughout the Verde Valley. After initially renting trucks to transport food, they got their first 26-foot refrigerated truck in 2019. They began accumulating equipment in their warehouse – industrial shelves, pallet jacks, forklifts – and then obtained a second truck. More events were added each month. Then Covid hit.
In response to the increased demand in food assistance caused by the pandemic, they pivoted both services and operations and expanded their reach to rural Yavapai County. As the majority of their volunteers were older (and therefore more susceptible to Covid-19), the organization hired those displaced out of restaurant and hospitality jobs due to the pandemic. They transformed former pop-up pantries into drive-through events. They also expanded their home delivery program to low-income seniors and homebound residents.
In 2020 alone, Manzanita Outreach served more than 10,000 residents in the Verde Valley – nearly one in seven people within the population.
Earlier this year, the organization surveyed Verde Valley families and found there was a need for food assistance designed specifically for children. Manzanita Outreach then created MO Packs for Kids, kid-friendly food packs containing an assortment of nutritious foods that parents could pick up at food-sharing events. The packs also come with an age-appropriate book. As of this month, more than 1,100 children have been served by this program.
Leaders at Manzanita Outreach also began to analyze how else they could connect with more children needing food. Once again, they let the data lead them, this time in the form of surveys and discussions with more than 100 area teachers and school administrators. They discovered that in addition to school supplies, many teachers spend their own money on snacks for their classrooms.
Now Manzanita is piloting a program called MO Packs for Teachers, providing teachers in seven area schools with a re-stockable food box of nutritious snacks for their classrooms. Manzanita Outreach refills the snack boxes on a recurring basis.
In addition to these programs, Manzanita Outreach runs a website, MOhelp.org, that provides up-to-date information on all the organizations that run food sharing programs in Yavapai County. The data is assembled in an easy-to-use format based on location.
The organization does not consider itself to be a food bank or food pantry. They are simply sharing food with their neighbors. These changes in how staff and volunteers talk about what they do works to reduce the lingering stigma about receiving food assistance, Burke said.
“Imagine you have a garden and you have a very successful yield, more food that you could possibly eat,” he said. “There’s no stigma of going to your neighbor to share your extra carrots or raspberries. That’s what we are doing: sharing an abundance of food with our neighbors.”
When you donate to UWYC, you benefit organizations like Manzanita Outreach as part of our mission to unite people, organizations and resources to improve lives and build strong communities throughout Yavapai County.