Across the river from the hip restaurants that line downtown Charleston, there is a line of folks gathered in the old Save-a-Lot parking lot waiting for the window of the community food truck to slide open and cure the rumbling in their stomachs—plus dozens more mustering the courage to get out of their car and join the line, unsure of when their next meal might be. It’s a humbling scene that has played out daily
at Manna Meal, and when I began my journey as the executive director in March of 2020, I underestimated the impact this organization would have on me and the place I call home.
Manna Meal has a rich and meaningful history in our region. What started as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cup of soup served by Reverend Jim Lewis in 1976 has evolved into a community staple, feeding nearly 400 people a day at our location in St. John’s Episcopal Church. In nearly 50 years of service, we’ve never missed a meal. However, over time, the needs of our vulnerable neighbors in Charleston have come to exceed what our soup kitchen’s dining room can provide.
When guests started expressing a need for food beyond lunchtime, Manna Meal responded by opening a food pantry and later—after a devastating fire at a primary grocery store on the West Side—initiating a mobile food pantry in partnership with Covenant House, Kanawha Valley Collective, United Way of Central West Virginia, and WV Health Right. In 2009, Manna Meal increased its efforts to feed the community and planted a community garden that now yields over 3,000 pounds of fresh, nourishing, and quality food each year for our soup kitchen and food pantry, flourishing through the ongoing dedication of volunteers and community support.
Time and time again, when underserved folks in Charleston have needed help, Manna Meal has been there to lift them up.
Since 2020, Manna Meal has seen a 49% increase in meals served. We began to recognize early on that—despite the congestion at our soup kitchen—many people on the other side of town were unable to access our services. After receiving numerous calls from people who were hungry, we knew we had to find a way to bring the food to them. And that’s when the idea for the food truck was born.
Our goal is simple: ensure that no barrier stands between a person and a healthy meal. In times of crisis, we have to meet people where they are. By delivering freshly prepared meals, takeaway food pantry items, and connections to vital services, Manna Meal’s food truck benefits all of our neighbors in need and helps equip them with the resources to get back on their feet.
Community support has always been the heart and soul of Manna Meal, and it is just as essential to our successful operation today. Without the dedication of our volunteers, our partners, and organizations like The Greater Kanawha Valley
Foundation, we wouldn’t be able to achieve our mission—so the hungry can eat. Our unwavering commitment to serving our vulnerable neighbors has been a beacon of hope for nearly half a century, and together, as a community, we have created an important sense of belonging, compassion, and possibility. As we look to the future, Manna Meal is focused on expanding our services to meet the evolving needs of Charleston, and we intend to remain and grow as a place where those who are struggling can find more than just a meal.