If you drive by the Cordova Mall in Pensacola before 7 p.m. on Tuesday you’ll see a big Mayflower Moving van parked out front. It’s there for the annual Fill The Mayflower Food Drive for Manna Food Pantries. For the last decade the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving has been dedicated to this campaign. Manna’s Executive Director De De Flounlacker says this year they are asking for quality as well as quantity. "We're hoping to fill up this Mayflower truck, that's [about] 15,000 - 20,000 pounds of food, and that's wonderful. But the other thing that we want to do [is] be sure that we're putting good food in the bags that we give out. So we don't need cake mixes and cookies and that kind of thing...we're looking for healthier food to give out to the hungry."
Over a third of the food distributed by Manna goes to children, and during the Fill The Mayflower Drive, area schools usually show up with food they’ve collected for the campaign. "[It's so wonderful] that these children all across Escambia, and Santa Rosa too, but especially Escambia County the district always does a food drive in conjunction with this. And I'm always amazed at some of our schools that are probably in more [economically challenged] neighborhoods are the ones that tend to give the most food." Floulacker says last year, Manna Food Pantries helped feed over 8,400 area children.
The drive runs both Monday and Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. in the mall parking lot just off Ninth Avenue. "All you have to do is pull up. You even need to get out of your car. Just pop the trunk or open your door and we've got volunteers here who will get [the food] for you. You can also make a cash donation. And I just want to remind everybody that every bit counts. It doesn't matter how big or how small [the donation] is, every bit counts. So if you give us a dollar, we're going to make that work. If you give us five dollars, we can provide food for a whole day for somebody in need."
And this year, the big moving van that Manna uses has another meaning besides the play on words of the Mayflower Thanksgiving connection. After almost four years, Manna Food Pantry will be moving into its new location on E Street next week. "For the last three and a half years my office has had wheels on it" said Flounlacker. Manna's headquarters were heavily damaged in the floods that hit the area in April of 2014. Since then the food bank has worked out of construction trailers and RV's at their Gonzales Street site. The move to the new location has begun and should be complete before the end of the month.
Flounlacker says if you’d like to stop by and help fill the mayflower before 7 p.m. on Tuesday, canned vegetables are needed as well as tuna and canned meats like chicken. And of course, peanut butter. If you’d like to make a cash donation to the drive, you can do that in person or at the website mannahelps.org.