Manzanita Outreach Expands Programs

The nonprofit has always followed the numbers, and the data has led to its latest initiatives, MO Packs for Kids and MO Packs for Teachers.

Manzanita Outreach is all about the logistics. When it comes to food insecurity, the organization's leadership believes there isn't so much a food problem as a distribution problem that requires distribution solutions.

Since 2017, the organization has been led by Mike Newcomb, whose background includes extensive expertise in distribution and logistics. That know-how was put to work at Manzanita Outreach, resulting in pop-up "food sharing" events throughout Verde Valley. These events have been strategically scheduled and located to serve the areas that need them the most.

"We are different because we are mobile and can scale up to bring food to neighborhoods, underserved communities, and the homes of our neighbors," said Director of Operations Ben Burke.

In the years prior to the COVID outbreak, Manzanita Outreach had expanded its food assistance program in communities throughout the Verde Valley. After initially renting trucks to transport food, they got their first 26-foot refrigerated truck in 2019. They began accumulating equipment in their warehouse - industrial shelves, pallet jacks, forklifts - and then obtained a second truck. More events were added each month. Then Covid hit.

In response to the increased demand in food assistance caused by the pandemic, they pivoted both services and operations and expanded their reach to rural Yavapai County. As the majority of their volunteers were older (and therefore more susceptible to Covid-19), the organization hired those displaced out of restaurant and hospitality jobs due to the pandemic. They transformed former pop-up pantries into drive-through events. They also expanded their home delivery program to low-income seniors and homebound residents. In 2020 alone, Manzanita Outreach served more than 10,000 residents in the Verde Valley - nearly one in seven people within the population. Earlier this year, the organization surveyed Verde Valley families and found there was a need for food assistance designed specifically for children. Manzanita Outreach then created MO Packs for Kids, kid-friendly food packs containing an assortment of nutritious foods that parents could pick up at food-sharing events. The packs also come with an age-appropriate book. As of this month, more than 1,100 children have been served by this program. Leaders at Manzanita Outreach also began to analyze how else they could connect with more children needing food. Once again, they let the data lead them, this time in the form of surveys and discu