- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

Staff writer Jon Ward interviewed Charlie Mann, founder of Celestial Manna Inc.

Question: What does Celestial Manna do?
Answer: At present, we go to local markets, get their rotated foods and expired-dated foods, to be distributed to the needy of the metropolitan area. We also receive donations of miscellaneous usable items such as clothing, school-related supplies, etc. to be given to the needy.

Q: You talk about helping people who might otherwise fall through the cracks. Who are those people?
A: Many of the people that we reach would not qualify for assistance from the state or county. These people include single parents that are struggling to make ends meet, as well as immigrants. We also help families that are sacrificing to send their children to faith-based or private schools, that can't afford it without our assistance.
We have worked with people that have been very sick and homebound, and elderly, and made deliveries to geriatrics who have not been able to get out.
Our referrals come from various congregations and word of mouth, from people either receiving from us or who know about the work we do.

Q: Why and when was Celestial Manna created?
A: We have been operating in the name of Celestial Manna for approximately 16 years. We have been working faithfully for those 16 years as a purposeful service to our community, feeding and serving approximately 400 people weekly.
Growing up I saw that my mother had thrown away a lot of my valuable things or things of interest, like stamp collections, coin collections, trading cards, and other memorabilia.
I saw other things, such as knickknacks and other valuable things, thrown away instead of being given away. I held that in for years, went off to school and then I saw students doing much the same in school. I would run around salvaging things and giving them away to other students when they didn't have something.
When I went out to eat, I would sit and watch people throw away a lot of their food from their dinners and meals. I often wondered, is there other waste in the marketplace? So I began to interrogate and found that there is a lot of waste in all types of retail and the restaurant business. I began to receive the so-called "throwaways" from various restaurants, as well as bakeries and some markets.
At one point, I lost my job. We began to have our own needs. As a result of my own need, I approached a market while I had been giving to others, and was able to procure a large amount of food. I was then able to help our family out as well as increase my giving to other families in need.
I have since become a public-school educator, and the ministry of Celestial Manna has blossomed to the point of feeding approximately 400 people per week.

Q: What do you do on the holidays?
A: On Christmas Day, I rally various congregations and people that have been on the receiving end of help from Celestial Manna, and we go out into low-income neighborhoods in Gaithersburg, Langley Park, Takoma Park and other areas to give away food and clothing and lots of toys. What we do is load up people's trucks and cars with all the resources and people, and we go to houses and knock on doors and beep horns. People come out in droves.
Oftentimes, lots of children come so that they will learn to give out of their own abundance.

Q: Until recently, most of the costs of operation came out of your own pocket. What have you done to alter that?
A: About six months ago, we were advised to become incorporated so that we would be able to receive tax-deductible gifts.
Over the years, we occasionally would receive gifts and it did not really help substantially with the ongoing costs of running such an organization. For example, we have ongoing electrical costs and gas costs for our automobiles.
During the years of service, our vehicles have taken a beating from the work: the weight of things, the spillage, the splattering, the scratching of the interior and exterior. We have hauled all types of food, as well as bicycles, and furniture, where we've had to take the seats out and which have ripped the ceiling.
We've gone through two minivans and one station wagon.

Q: Describe your operation. How does it work?
A: On a daily basis, individuals that are preassigned will go to a few markets at specific times to pick up often perishable foods to be taken to various distribution points. Then the food is picked up from the distribution points by individuals who will take it to many families.
There are about 19 people on a consistent basis volunteering, who pick up the food and take it to distribution points, and I have a number of backups for them. I don't know how many people then take the food to the numerous families.

Q: What are your goals for Celestial Manna?
A: I'm trying to reach more people through the resources that we have. I'm looking for more people to serve with us, that are willing to go out and to give out the resources that we have.
A long-range goal would be to eventually go full-time doing this in the local metropolitan area, and ultimately to go nationally and conceivably internationally. I would like to be able to train other faith-based organizations, like churches, synagogues, parishes to duplicate what I'm doing.

Q: What do people have to do to volunteer?
A: If people are willing to volunteer by taking food to the needy from our distribution points, they may contact me for an interview at 301/963-4413.
If people want to be on the receiving end, I will interview them. Usually, I will ask for a reference, but if there are none, the criteria is just that they have an expressed need. An expressed need is not someone with a $300,000 home trying to extend their wealth. It would be a struggling family, trying to make ends meet, a single parent, or a homebound person, a senior citizen.

Q: What are your most significant needs at this point? Can people give you tax-deductible money now?
A: We're believing God for a pickup truck. We're looking for a late-model pickup.
We're looking for a central distribution point with adequate refrigeration and freezers. We would obviously need insurance to cover those expenses.
If people would like to give, they could write checks to Celestial Manna Inc.

Q: What is one story that sticks out from your 16 years of operation?
A: There is one single mom with three children and no job, who is home schooling her children, one of whom is a special-needs child. Her husband was not giving regular support to the family.
We were able to provide adequate food and periodic clothing for them, as well as school materials for the children.
Oftentimes, she has reacted with tears, joy, and has communicated how she would have no other means to survive without this ministry.


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