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MANNA serves up free meals in Moore Co.

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Volunteers with Moore Alliance Nourishing Neighbors, Amen! prepare and serve up about 600 meals a week and 35,000 meals a year. Volunteers with Moore Alliance Nourishing Neighbors, Amen! prepare and serve up about 600 meals a week and 35,000 meals a year.
SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. -

There's an old saying: "There's no such thing as a free lunch." But some volunteers in Moore County may beg to differ.

Volunteers with Moore Alliance Nourishing Neighbors, Amen! prepare and serve up about 600 meals a week and 35,000 meals a year. They're in Moore County church kitchens four days a week cooking and packaging the meals to be sent to sites where people will pick up the lunches.

"You always feel good when you do something good for someone else, don't you think?," said Paula Hill, president of the board of MANNA.

She was helping volunteers at Emanuel Episcopal Church in Southern Pines on a recent Wednesday. Together, the volunteers bagged 90 meals with chicken sandwiches, fruit cups and cookies.

John Roberts, executive director of MANNA, said it's also a convenient way for people to volunteer.

"We were able to harness the energy and the charity and the love that a lot of people have to want to help other people but there's the barriers. I mean, just going to these different places," he said.

"You make the lunch. It's served that day right here in Moore County and that's what I think people like. They're doing something together and they're helping people right here."

A dozen churches take turns preparing the meals. A total of eight different sites serve as rotating meal destinations.

"We feed once on Tuesday, twice on Wednesday, three times on Thursday, twice on Friday," Roberts said.

Local churches started the program in 2005, giving out 180,000 lunches in that time.

"Someone said wouldn't it be nice if we had a program where people could come in and get a lunch without any qualifications," Roberts said.

That's one of the things Annette Shaw likes.

"Some places you go to, you got to fill your name out, have your Social Security card. They ask you all these questions, ‘Why you need this and why you need that?' But, this place, you can just walk in, get a bag and just go home and eat," she said.

Shaw, who said she's been unemployed for about two years, often picks up lunch for herself and her grandson at Trinity AME Zion Church in Southern Pines.

Everyone has their own reasons for coming to pick up a lunch, including Walter Jones.

"I'm disabled. I get very few food stamps and the ones I get, they're exhausted before the month's out. Things like that. So, this is like a supplement," he said.

"I know people who plan their week around this," Jones said.

It's not quite a soup kitchen, Meals on Wheels or a food pantry. Instead, it's a smart way to fill the gap between those other programs. A mobile kitchen was considered when the organization was created, but it was determined that would not be as effective and would be too expensive.

They take the food with them, instead of sitting and eating ,but there's still a community feel.

"There's a lady that comes in every week. I don't know her from Adam's housecat. But, she always comes in here and hugs me and says, ‘How are you doing? What do we have for lunch today?,'" said Louise Bowman, a volunteer at AME Zion Church.

Free bread and desserts are donated by Panera, which is a big draw for Shaw.

"This bread here will make some good sandwiches with," she said.

"When my food's kind of low, then I come and get some bread. That helps me out a lot."

"It gives me a good, deep-down to the bottom of the heart feeling," said volunteer Veola McLean.

The organization recently added a new location in Robbins.

Each meal costs MANNA about $1.50, but with gas and other expenses, it takes $100,000 a year to run the program.

Manna relies on donations and fundraisers.

A golf tournament is scheduled at Foxfire Resort on  Sept. 22 to raise money for the program.

For more information: http://mannafeeds.org

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Justin Quesinberry

Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina. 

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