Manna House hits 30-year milestone of giving

Oakhurst non-profit also celebrates one-year anniversary of move; gearing up for holidays

Carmen GeorgeOctober 26, 2012 

It's a simple and powerful mantra: "We are just here to offer comfort to those in need with dignity," says Tom Nicolulis, Manna House director.

Now, 30 years after the emergency food and clothes shelter opened in 1982, the non-profit is still going strong.

The Manna House is totally volunteer-run and completely funded by donations from the community, an amazing feat with about $1,200 a month needed for utility bills and $5,000 a month for food.

"The good prevails in Oakhurst," said Nicolulis of how the Manna House has stayed alive over the years. "The people who live in Oakhurst want to live here and make it better. I like to say that Oakhurst is so small you wake up and sneeze and come to town and five people say 'God bless you.'"

Last year, the Manna House served about 27,600 people in Eastern Madera County.

This month is also the non-profit's one-year anniversary in its new building, located at 40390 Junction Drive, on the lower level of the Yosemite New Life Church of the Nazarene property, which does not charge them rent.

The new $400,000, 3,200 square-foot, eight-room building was built last year, thanks largely to a $250,000 community grant from the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians. The Manna House still needs at least $30,000 to finish additional construction projects, including concrete work, paving and an awning.

The Manna House was founded in 1982 as part of the Mountain Ministerial Association by Reverend Paul Hansen, Gary Cooper and Bert Greenwood. It was run under the umbrella of shared ministries, and is still governed by the association.

The Manna House serves Eastern Madera County and relies on generous donations from local churches, businesses, community organizations and residents.

And with tough economic times, the community's support is even more crucial now to help continue to meet rising needs.

In 2007, the Manna House helped about 11,500 people. In 2008, that number jumped dramatically to 18,000 and then spiked again in 2009, with more than 25,000 Mountain Area residents visiting the facility.

"In 2008, we started seeing people we've never seen before," Nicolulis said. "The dynamics changed dramatically after the economy crashed."

Nicolulis said the majority of people that visit the Manna House are not homeless, but rather working people, or recently unemployed people, who sometimes need a little extra help.

The non-profit's Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner giveaways often have more than 300 area families coming for food.

Along with food and clothing, the Manna House provides blankets, sheets/pillowcases, comforters, household items, cleaning supplies and hygiene products to those in need.

The people of the place

The early history of the Manna House was shaped largely by former Manna House director Troy West, who started volunteering for the non-profit more than 22 years ago, when it was located in a cottage where Oakhurst's Rite Aid Pharmacy is today. West later moved the Manna House to the Foster Freeze building, which he owned, in the early 1990s.

A couple years later, John Reid obtained a commitment from Yosemite High School which allowed the Manna House to move onto its property, located on Hang Tree Lane, where it remained for approximately 15 years.

In 1996, Manna House director Troy West appointed Tom Nicolulis as its assistant director, and 10 years later in 2006, the Mountain Ministerial association appointed Nicolulis as director.

Pat Sebring, in charge of the clothing department, has volunteered for more than 15 years at Manna House. She is also secretary of the Manna House board.

Bruce Bartlett, in charge of the food department, has volunteered at Manna House for eight years. He also runs the commodities distribution on the second Thursday of each month.

In June, the Manna House was broken into and vandalized seven times. Soon after, Marty Upton began volunteering as the night watchman for the Manna House, living in a motorhome on the property, and the break-ins have ceased.

The Manna House also recently gained Mike Franklin, who is volunteering doing "advocate assistance" work to help people get a job by putting together a résumé for them, getting them proper clothing, and preparing them for interviews.

Upcoming events and fundraisers

The annual Thanksgiving dinner giveaway will be held Nov. 19. Sign-ups for dinner fixings will begin Nov. 1 and continue through Nov. 16.

The annual Christmas dinner giveaway will be held mid-December, with sign-ups for dinner fixings beginning Dec. 3.

The Manna House is always looking for donations, and especially money donations, as much of their food is purchased. A Christmas toy drive is also underway.

A fundraiser is also underway where people can purchase a brick for $200 that will be laid in front of the Manna House. Each brick can include two lines, with up to 30 characters.

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