Saturday, September 12, 2009

Counting their blessings in Vinton

One mother said that if it weren't for Manna Ministries, she wouldn't get through the month.

Anne Roberts (center) opens the door Thursday to a crowd outside Vinton's Manna Ministries, an outreach of Parkway Wesleyan Church. The center has been giving supplies to families since 1996.

Kyle Green | The Roanoke Times

Anne Roberts (center) opens the door Thursday to a crowd outside Vinton's Manna Ministries, an outreach of Parkway Wesleyan Church. The center has been giving supplies to families since 1996.

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People such as Sue Shelton line up along the outside walls of a warehouse at Walnut Avenue and Third Street in Vinton once a month for help and encouragement.

Shelton, a 50-year-old mother of two from Roanoke, said she can't make ends meet with a disability check she gets, but thanks to Manna Ministries she has food in her kitchen for her family.

"If it weren't for this place," she said, shrugging her shoulders, "I don't know how I'd make it through the month."

Since 1996, Manna Ministries has helped families who are considered impoverished according to federal government standards, opening its doors to give people a box filled with food they can take home. Now, in an era of high unemployment and tight budgets, Manna's president said the organization is planning to offer classes aimed at helping clients become self-sufficient.

"The majority of the people want help, not handouts," said Anne Roberts, Manna Ministries' president and its only paid staffer. "We've taken surveys and they've said they want classes on ways they can help themselves."

The group is partnering with the Roanoke County Prevention Council to begin classes as early as late October on topics such as drug and alcohol abuse, resume-writing and parenting, Roberts said.

Families show income statements and proof of address to register with the group so they can get help. The center opens at 5:30 p.m. every Wednesday, and families can pick up food as often as once a month.

People stand in line, check in at a counter and walk through an area where they're given a snack and children are given a book (for the price of a handshake, a high-five or a smile). Then they wind through a walk-in closet where they can pick up clothes, and end in an area where they receive a box filled with foods such as raw chicken, canned vegetables and loaves of bread.

So many people show up that the Vinton Police Department stations a cruiser to control traffic on the two-lane road outside the center when it's open. Officer P. Harris, who has been stationed there about once a month, said that when he arrives about 5 p.m., the line outside the center is usually wrapped around the building.

Like downtown Roanoke's RAM House, Manna Ministries gets many of its volunteers from religious congregations. It gets most of its funding from its founding church, Parkway Wesleyan Church in Northeast Roanoke, and its volunteers range from students to car mechanics to nurses.

An accounting clerk from a refuse company who did not want to give her name said that helping reminds her "of how thankful we need to be because there are so many people out there without jobs and without food."

Naturally, the people who get help are also grateful. As Shelton climbed into a truck driven by a social worker from Hall Community Services, she said Manna Ministries' director helps her stay positive.

"If I need help," she said, "I can call Anne and she'll help me in any way she can."

To help: Call Manna Ministries president Anne Roberts at 589-1375.

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