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A Day in the Volunteer Life: Manna Food Center

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of the Catalogue for Philanthropy

Fact: Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country.

Fact: Montgomery County is the 18th wealthiest county in the country, out of over 3,100 counties.

Fact: Over 63,000 people in Montgomery County don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

No one should have to struggle with food insecurity, yet too many do right here in our local communities. That’s why Manna Food Center is committed to not only ending hunger, but also combating the structures that allowed it in the first place. As Montgomery County’s largest food rescue program, this nonprofit provides supplemental food assistance, education, and advocacy to more than 6,000 families every month. Recently, I got to know this organization a little better by volunteering for their annual MLK Weekend Food Drive.

Since 1994, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been recognized as a day of service, when Americans are encouraged to give back to their community through volunteering. And what better way to celebrate the message of Dr. King than to help our neighbors in need? That’s why on Saturday and Sunday, January 18-19th, Manna Food Center hosted food drives at 19 Giant Food stores across Montgomery County.

Signing up for a volunteer slot online was quick and easy. In the spirit of one of the Catalogue’s frequently-used phrases “think local, act local, give local,” I chose the Leisure World location, which is only 10 minutes from my house. I recruited one of my roommates to join me for the Saturday 12-3pm shift. When we arrived, we found signs for Manna Food Center hanging from shopping carts already filled with food.


We greeted the 9am-12pm shift volunteers, a mother-father-daughter team. They provided a quick breakdown of our task: inviting grocery store customers to purchase additional items while shopping to then donate to Manna Food Center on their way out. We were to hand shoppers helpful slips of paper with a list of the most needed non-perishable items. (It had the Catalogue’s seal on the back!)



I found this to be a cleverly designed setup. First of all, some individuals feel more comfortable donating tangible things than money. And second of all, this was a convenient and fun way to give back; you’re already shopping anyway, so why not pick up a few extra cans of soup?

Our fellow volunteers included a high schooler earning service hours for National Honor Society. His father accompanied him for the first half of the afternoon and switched places with the mother in the second half. Then, a surprise – we were joined by Maryland Delegate Vaughn Stewart! He helped us collect donations (and shake constituents’ hands) for a while before heading on to another Manna location also in his district.


The weather that day was an unwelcome mixture of freezing rain and snow. Even though we were inside the building (not always a guarantee for food drives!), we kept our coats on because every time the automatic door opened, we got assailed by the chill. Regardless, the mood was upbeat among the volunteers. I especially enjoyed interrogating Delegate Stewart about local politics. He was very pleasant and interesting to talk to!

This particular volunteer role required a certain degree of salesmanship when approaching strangers and persuading them to buy us food. Some individuals gave us a brusque NOTHANKYOU, only to come back later with donations anyway. One man wearing a University of Washington sweatshirt told us that he couldn’t. I replied, “Go Dawgs! I’m an alumnus of ‘U-Dub’ too!” He later sheepishly returned with a bag of baby food jars.



Although we never solicited money-donations, some people didn’t want to bother with picking out an item, so they just put cash in our hands instead. Throughout our three hours of volunteering, we consolidated this money into a coat pocket (referred to as “The Bank”) for safekeeping. At the end of our shift, we used this money to buy a cart full of cans for Manna Food Center.


Three o’clock came and our shift was over. The shoppers of Leisure World had been generous – we had filled up multiple carts’ worth of donations! We rolled our final packed cart of donations over to Giant staff and folded up our signs for the next day’s volunteers. Volunteering had been an invigorating experience! I’m glad to have made a memory of getting to know a local politician, meeting two families celebrating the MLK weekend through public service, and helping to make a difference for people struggling with food insecurity in my county.

That weekend, I was just one of over 200 volunteers and 24 elected officials to participate in Manna Food Center’s food drive. These officials included city councilmembers, county councilmembers, state delegates, a state senator, and even U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin! Together, we collected over 27,000 pounds of food that will be donated to Montgomery County residents in need. Out of 19 locations, Leisure World volunteers were the 4th most productive – we collected 2,244 pounds of food!

If soliciting strangers in a grocery store sounds intimidating to you, then don’t worry! Manna Food Center has a wealth of volunteer opportunities for introverts too. For example, volunteers can help out with:

  • Packing boxes of non-perishable food items
  • Transporting food from donors to recipient organizations
  • Sorting warehouse donations


On the other hand, if you enjoy more community-facing work like my experience during the MLK weekend drive, you could volunteer for such tasks as:

  • Receiving and processing referrals through phone and email in Manna’s call center
  • Assisting with educational workshops on nutrition, health, and cooking
  • Representing Manna Food Center at community events
  • Distributing food directly to Manna clients

Some of these positions require additional training. Some are well suited for individuals and others are excellent fits for families and groups to volunteer together. You can learn more about volunteering with Manna Food Center on their volunteer page.

Volunteering is a way of getting involved in your community and seeing an immediate, tangible difference in your labor. Despite its prevalence, food insecurity is not always obvious; volunteering with Manna Food Center can open our eyes to the size of the need. When you help out with food assistance, you could be helping out your neighbor or classmate and not even know it.




Dear Neighbor: Why I fight for the Potomac River

How getting face-to-face with dirty water turned this Old Town resident into an advocate.

What turns someone from a simply living near the Potomac River, to being a true neighbor of the river?

Like the other 5 million people in the DC metro region, Susan Ginsburg lives near the water – in fact, she lives just a few strides away from its edge in Alexandria, Virginia. However, she hasn’t always had a deep connection with the Potomac. Once curious and unsure of the waterway around which her city is built, she now plays an active role in restoring its health. Hear from Susan how her relationship with the river has changed through years of walks, runs, paddles, and adventures with her dog:

Susan Ginsburg – Potomac Conservancy supporter and volunteer

“Dear neighbors of the Potomac River,

My journey with the Potomac River started when I moved to Old Town Alexandria from Washington, DC’s Dupont Circle over 27 years ago. Even though I moved to just a few blocks away from the Potomac, it took me a while to really notice the river.

When I did, I decided to start running in the mornings to take advantage of the national trail, the views up and down river, the sounds of the water lapping, the turtle-laden logs, the fresh-air breezes on my face. I began to appreciate the beauty of what we have with the Potomac River.

Then, wanting to be just a bit more adventurous and take advantage of what the Potomac has to offer, I decided to get into kayaking. At the time, Atlantic Kayak was headquartered in Old Town near the coal plant. I needed to get a safety certificate so I could rent their kayaks.

During one of the safety certificate training sessions one day, I found myself hanging upside down in the river, head under water, zipped into the kayak. The idea of the training was to extricate oneself, flip the kayak, and climb back in. Which I did. But in that long moment of hanging, suspended in the water, I asked myself, Do I really want to be hanging in this water? It seems kind of brown and murky.

Now feeling more curious about the river than ever before, I began to notice more things about this river that I loved and depended on for daily fun and exercise outside. I began to notice trash that dotted the shorelines after storms. I began to read about Old Town’s sewer system, and how its need for significant modernization was not being met. I was aware, and now upset to learn that raw sewage sometimes flowed from Alexandria into the Potomac River in heavy rainstorms.

I started to think about how our community lives along the Potomac, sometimes unaware of its challenges and changes.

Flooding in Old Town 2016. Photos courtesy of John Sonderman via Flickr.

Flooding in Old Town 2016. Photos courtesy of John Sonderman via Flickr.

I discovered that Lee Street in Alexandria was originally called Water Street; in other words, the street that was now two blocks away from the water’s edge used to be the shoreline. The floods at the base of King Street are notorious, and one year I actually saw kayakers paddling along Union Street making their way to Starbucks. As entertaining a scene as that was, I began to wonder about the implications of the climate breakdown for Old Town Alexandria, as well as for Georgetown where I grew up, and downtown Washington, DC.

My questions led to more learning, and then to Potomac Conservancy.

One day I decided it was time to do something about my feelings for and concerns about the river. I opened my computer, looked for relevant organizations, and found Potomac Conservancy and became a member. Now that I’ve gotten involved, I do think differently about the river.

I’m now aware that there are 31,000 friends and supporters of Potomac Conservancy doing everything from volunteering their time, to picking up trash along the river’s banks, to writing their county commissioners about the need to tighten water pollution policy. I read the River Update email newsletter and see upcoming tree planting events and learn about local fish populations and other wildlife benefiting from cleaner waters and healthier habitat.

Most of all, I’m energized to know that I’ve joined a community that cares about our local environment – and takes actions every day to help our local environment heal and thrive.


Potomac Conservancy volunteers cleaning up trash along the river at Jones Point Park

Potomac Conservancy volunteers cleaning up trash along the river at Jones Point Park

We all have our paths of discovery. We drive around this region, frequently along the Potomac River. We run, bike, walk our dogs, sometimes we kayak, row, or boat on the river. Many of us have had a riverside snack at a restaurant that enjoys a Potomac River view. We all use the water – and that water comes from the Potomac River.

Potomac Conservancy makes it easy to get involved. Do you want to volunteer? Speak out to encourage river-friendly laws? Learn more about our water, our wildlife, and how we can help our local environment be as healthy and clean as we know it should be?

There is a way to get involved that’s going to be right for you. I hope to see you on the river.


Susan Ginsburg”


This blog post was originally published at on January 3rd, 2020.

Becoming Visible

Written by Tyler French

My work with Story Tapestries began in the summer 2018. I joined the team as a teaching assistant, supporting a visual artist to lead Neelsville Middle School students in Germantown, Maryland to design and create two murals for their school. One student in particular, “John,” stands out when I reflect on that summer program. John was incredibly quiet, didn’t engage with many of the other students, and never raised his hand when the group was asked a question. When we brought out the paints to start realizing our design, he worked silently on his corner. Cleaning spilled paint out of my hair (one of the tubes had exploded), I saw John working on his corner of the mural, intensely focused. I stopped and watched while he carefully applied the paint, blending from lavender to a deep purple that pulled me into the piece.

Story Tapestries Mural 1

I flashed back to my middle school self as I watched John paint. I recognized his shyness in myself. I recognized his inability to easily engage with his peers, his hesitancy to raise his hand even though he knew the answer to our questions. At the moment, another student was walking behind John, stopped, and asked, “How’d you do that?!” pointing to the gradient purples. From that moment, John became a consultant to other students’ mural sections. He helped others blend their paint, get a clean edge, and troubleshoot issues. I witnessed John become visible to himself, to matter.

Story Tapestries Mural 2

Story Tapestries is continuing to serve Neelsville Middle School students as the Lead Partner on a Trawick Foundation TeamUp Grant. Trawick started the TeamUp grants to promote collaboration among nonprofit partners, decrease duplication, and expand resources. Story Tapestries has the pleasure of collaborating with Aspire Counseling, Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County, and NAMI MC (all of whom are also Catalogue for Philanthropy partners). Our various programs at the school blend trauma-informed counseling and training, conflict resolution skill building, and arts integration programs for academic supports and social emotional growth. Story Tapestries sees the power artmaking has to open up youth to others and help them express their thoughts and feelings. Working alongside these other nonprofits, we are able to provide additional supports for youth who may have these experiences in our arts-based sessions, and may also benefit from other services including therapy and coaching.

Every time I visit Neelsville Middle School and pass that mural, I see another section of John’s handiwork that I hadn’t noticed before. I always pause and take a moment to remind myself what incredible power arts experiences have for students (and had for me, when I was John’s age). Working in tandem with these partners, I am excited to learn what impact our various programs and services will have for John and other students. As we move toward collecting data for a midyear report, we look forward to the opportunity to reflect with John and other students to start to evaluate not only the individual but also the collective impact of our programs.

If you would like to know more about Story Tapestries’ collaborative framework and the Neelsville mural, or connect about the Trawick Foundation supported collaboration at Neelsville Middle School, please don’t hesitate to email Development Director, Lorienne Beals, at

Give Local: GivingTuesday 2019

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of the Catalogue for Philanthropy

At the Catalogue for Philanthropy, we shine a light on the best small, local nonprofits all year-round. But we do a little extra on one especially important day of the year: GivingTuesday. This global day of philanthropy follows Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday — once people have finished all of their holiday shopping, they’re encouraged to then give back! GivingTuesday is a pretty big deal here at the Catalogue, to say the least.

Since grassroots nonprofits focus most of their limited resources on their direct programming, they may not have much left over for self-promotion. That’s where the Catalogue comes in. In addition to providing educational support to our nonprofit partners, we also promote and showcase their work to wider audiences. GivingTuesday is the perfect opportunity to share the incredible difference they’re accomplishing and we took full advantage of this global movement to amplify local giving.

We began to lay the groundwork for our GivingTuesday campaign months aheadoftime. We knew that one of our strategies would be to coordinate “in-person activation,” a way to energize online-giving through on-the-ground events. We reached out to businesses throughout the DC metropolitan area, encouraging them to get involved through hosting an event, donating funds, or promoting giving through their networks. We even created a helpful one-pager to hand out.

GT19 One-Pager


In addition to multiple businesses agreeing to post GivingTuesday flyers, Pacers Navy Yard donated a generous runner’s dream gift bag and CorePower donated a month of unlimited yoga for our GivingTuesday happy hour door prizes! One of the most exciting collaborations was with Craft Beer Cellar. They initiated the idea of a Give a Can – Get a Can food drive; for every can of food that a person donated to their shop, they would receive in exchange a can of beer! The cans of food were donated to three Catalogue nonprofits: Common Threads in DC, Nourish Now in Maryland, and Spend Yourself Food Pantry in Virginia. Beer cans were donated by local breweries DC Brau Brewing, Manor Hill Brewing in Maryland, and Old Ox Brewery in Virginia. As the official GivingTuesday partner for the Greater Washington region, we knew that we needed to work hard to stand out among all of the campaigns taking place across the country and internationally. This meant marketing designed to emphasize our motto: #GiveLocal. We put together a sleek online platform for donations at the aptly-named, created and distributed online and print flyers, an infographic timeline, and even created in-house an animated video.

GT19 Print Flyers_Full Page


Because our nonprofit partners are smaller organizations, we knew that many of them have limited materials, time, and staff. To give them a leg up for the big day, we created a variety of resources for them. These included sample thank you letters, a stewardship plan, social media templates and graphics, sample supporter emails, a sample donor pyramid, and tutorials on setting up?personal GivingTuesday fundraising pages. Our staff set aside blocks of time (that got booked very quickly!) to meet with nonprofit partners one-on-one to give personalized feedback and guidance on their GivingTuesday campaigns. We also hosted two webinars, a lunch and learn, and a workshop on how to make GivingTuesday a success. And this doesn’t even begin to cover the dozens of daily emails and phone calls we received from excited partners getting prepped!

Social Media #GivingTuesday_Instagram


The big day finally arrived! At, over 200 of our nonprofit partners hosted their own campaign pages, with goals ranging from $250-$50,000. It was exhilarating (and fun) every time we hit refresh on our website and watched the overall thermometer go up. Because research shows that people are more likely to give when they have a time pressure, and because we wanted to encourage widespread engagement over and above dollars raised, we incorporated the use of “Power Hours.” These were one-hour periods during which the nonprofit with the most unique donors won an extra $1,000. The four winners ended up being our partners 1st Stage (9-10am), DC Scores (12-2pm), City Dogs Rescue & City Kitties (3-4pm), and The Josh Anderson Foundation (8-9pm). Throughout the day (and weeks leading up as well) we were continuously active on social media. We were honored to have Instagram influencer Austin Graff on board that day. Via his Instagram stories, he promoted his ten favorite nonprofits participating in our campaign. Another thrilling development: we got to take over the We the People DC handle for the day! This was exciting news for us and our nonprofits because We the People DC has over 50,000 followers on Instagram. What a fantastic opportunity to promote charitable giving on GivingTuesday! Some of our posts that day included visiting our partners Free Minds Book Club, LearnServe International, Sixth & I, and Suited for Change. GT19 We the People DC As the evening came to a close, we held a celebratory happy hour with partners at Wunder Garten. We had reason to celebrate: our initial overall goal of $400,000 had been surpassed! With the help of 5,270 donors, we raised $637,828 for small, local nonprofits! Our months of preparation, collaborations, and hard work had paid off. We feel incredibly inspired by the level of generosity and community engagement we witnessed on GivingTuesday. It is moments like these that we remember why the work of the Catalogue is so vital in lifting up the work of local nonprofits. We feel honored and proud that as the official GivingTuesday partner for the DC region, we were able to host this platform for local philanthropy. As we start a new year, we’re excited to continue our work here at the Catalogue. After all, it’s never too early to begin planning for GivingTuesday 2020!