TIFTON — Students from Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College (ABAC) and Tifton Fire Department joined forces to feed 400 families the Saturday before Thanksgiving Day.
For seven years now, students from ABAC have fundraised and organized for the Manna Drop and created a club devoted to feeding families every year before Thanksgiving. Last year, the college campus club became recognized as a non-profit organization.
Though the gates opened at 9:30 a.m., hundreds of cars lined up outside Charles Spencer Elementary School waiting for the students to begin handing out meals. A truck-bed filled with ice and over 400 hams sat waiting to be handed out to help ease the financial burden for many community members in Tifton.
The term “manna” comes from the Bible and means bread. Many of the students handing out meals to families were members of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) club on ABAC campus.
For some students, like Lane Riley, this has been something they have participated in for years.
“It seems like everybody gives us the most credit for doing this event every year,” said Riley. “The students out here handing out meals are a small part and it’s mostly the community taking care of the community because all of the money raised for this comes from local businesses and people who want to donate.”
Riley has been one of the main leaders for the Manna Drop since the second year the food drive happened. Soon, he will graduate and will hand down the leadership reins to the students below him.
“In the six years I have been doing this I would like to think we made a difference here,” said Riley. “Since Manna Drop started, we have handed out over 1,600 meals, so it’s nice to look back and think about the impact this has had on the community.”
One of the biggest community contributors for the Manna Drop is Publix. Over the years they have supplied the hams and donated money to help keep the Manna Drop successful.
Every year it’s up to the students to go around fundraising and asking businesses to contribute. The organization works year-round to make sure they have everything it takes to feed hundreds of families.
Usually November is a busy time for college students because they take finals the week after Thanksgiving. However, that doesn’t stop students like Cheyenne Colson from devoting countless hours to making sure families around Tifton have food on the table for the holidays.
“I know that I will be eating for Thanksgiving, but I do this because I know there is a lot of families that don’t know if they are going to have food on Thanksgiving Day,” said Colson. “I don’t do this because I want recognition or anything in return, I do this because I love seeing how grateful the people are when we hand them a bag of food right before their holiday.”
Colson is not only an ABAC student but also a part-time firefighter among other things. She was instrumental in bringing the city fire department to help hand out bags of food.
For school guidance counselor Beth Sellars at Charles Spencer Elementary School, she understands how important the Manna Drop is for the community surrounding their school. According to Sellars, they send home food for the weekend for 19 children every week and have students at their school who are homeless.
“So many times, at schools we are expected to raise test scores and educate our students, but what’s really important is that we meet their most basic needs,” said Sellars. “They need shelter, they need food, they need love and more importantly they need to feel safe. So, before we can teach them to the highest standards, we need to meet those most basic needs.”
The future of the Manna Drop hangs in the balance as many of the students who have served as the backbone to the organization will graduate soon. It will be up to the younger students in the organization to figure out a way to pay for the next year’s Manna Drop.
“The seniors who are graduating like me have faith in the next generation of Manna Drop leaders,” said Colson. “It wasn’t ever easy to organize such a big food drive, but this is something that is obtainable and doable and it’s worth committing to.”
Businesses and community members interested in contributing or helping with the Manna Drop’s mission next year can contact ABAC professor, Tom Grant by calling 229-391-4957 or emailing email@example.com for more information.