For the needy will not always be forgotten, nor will the hope of the poor perish forever. (Psalm 9:18, Modern English Version)
Manna House began sixteen years ago. A few of us gathered as a community of volunteers to serve people on the streets and others in poverty in the downtown and midtown areas of Memphis. Several of us had gotten to know people on the streets as we worshipped at Sacred Heart Catholic Church at the corner of Cleveland and Jefferson.
Three of those people on the streets, Sara, Tyler, and Abe, were regulars at Sacred Heart. They became the “holy trinity” who taught us about the needs and strengths of people on the streets in that neighborhood. They invited us to open a place of hospitality in which sanctuary would be provided, where people would be welcomed for coffee, conversation, showers and clothing, and above all, treated with dignity. Resources were pooled and a house was purchased at 1268 Jefferson to be remodeled into a place of hospitality.
Our guiding inspirations, in addition to Sara, Tyler, and Abe, were the Open Door Community (then in Atlanta), the Catholic Worker Movement of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, and the long traditions of hospitality in the Christian tradition and in other world religions.
In the late summer of 2005, Manna House opened without fanfare but with much hope, love, and faith. The then five-year-old daughter of Kathleen, one of the founders of Manna House, held a sign that said, “Free Coffee” and announced to all who walked by “Free Coffee for Sale!” People from the streets started to stop in and relationships were built. In the early months, coffee, conversation, and the occasional sweet roll gathered people several times a week, while fresh socks and hygiene items were also shared. By January, a new shower room was opened, so three times a week showers could be offered with a change of clothes. The “socks and hygiene” continued as well. In the winter months, coats, hats, gloves, blankets, sleeping bags, and more were also offered. In the summer months, fresh t-shirts, baseball caps were added. Haircuts were offered.
Hospitality, the welcome of people in their dignity as made in the image of God, and no requirements of ID or “needs testing” has been our central practice at Manna House. A little over a year later, a former guest (now off the streets and housed) began “More on Monday” a simple meal offered every Monday at Manna House. Over the years Manna House has also hosted a variety of start-up organizations, including Door of Hope, Outreach, Housing and Community, Room in the Inn Memphis, and Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality (H.O.P.E.). Most recently we also opened the Women’s Sanctuary, working with Room in the Inn Memphis to offer shelter to women at a second location on Greenlaw.
All of this has been done over the years with a completely volunteer staff. No one is paid to work at Manna House. We are ordinary people offering hospitality. We started small and have stayed small so that we can offer a personal welcome to our guests. During our sixteen years, people from a variety of faiths (or no particular faith) have served at Manna House. We have also hosted groups from schools and universities, and other organizations both locally and from across the United States.
We’ve received financial support from many different individuals and from a variety of religious communities and other organizations. We do not seek or accept any government funding or complicated grants requiring a professional staff. For about $35,000 a year we serve 100 or so guests each day that we are open; that is, about 15,000 people a year. Since we have no paid staff all financial support goes to serving our guests either directly through goods that they receive or indirectly through maintaining our two places of hospitality where our guests are welcomed. We are a 901c3 (official name, “Emmanuel House Manna”), and each year we file a 990.
We have continued our practice of hospitality through the pandemic. Though the pandemic has changed some aspects of how we offer hospitality, it has not deterred us from continuing to welcome guests, to offer a place of sanctuary, to offer showers, clothing, coffee, a weekly meal, and shelter at the women’s sanctuary.
Please consider supporting the work of hospitality at Manna House. Checks can be made out to Manna House or to Emmanuel House Manna (the official name of our nonprofit) and mailed to 769 Stonewall, Memphis, TN 38107.