In an email sent this week, CEO Jackie DeCarlo noted that this year marks her 10-year anniversary with the organization. “For me, this year marks another milestone—my 10th “Manna-versary” as chief executive officer,” DeCarlo wrote. “Board and staff left me touched and a bit flummoxed at our September staff meeting by sharing tributes and reflections.”
The full text of DeCarlo’s email is below:
Regular readers of this newsletter know that this year, Manna Food Center is celebrating our 40th anniversary. We are an organization created in 1983—by the community, for the community—to eliminate hunger by sharing food, educating, and advocating. Our final celebration is a birthday party on November 11, 2023 in Silver Spring. We want to host you, participants, partners, supporters, volunteers, and neighbors–rain or shine–from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. RSVP so we make sure that there is enough good food and supplies (including U.S. flags to commemorate Veterans Day) to make this free celebration special. There will be food trucks, kids’ activities, birthday cupcakes, tours and plenty of good conversations about memories and progress for the future.
For me, this year marks another milestone—my 10th “Manna-versary” as chief executive officer. Board and staff left me touched and a bit flummoxed at our September staff meeting by sharing tributes and reflections. I’ve been doing some reflecting of my own, and I want to use this space to share lessons I’ve learned at Manna this past decade. As I am fond of slogans, I’ll muse on a few favorites.
Be Smart Enough to Know What You’re Dumb At. In my high school bedroom, I had a poster with that sentiment staring down at me. As a teenager, it was a helpful reminder to build my self-esteem, and as a leader I’ve come to embrace it as an effective team-building tool. Drivers at Manna have often heard me say I could never do their jobs—even with GPS—because of my terrible sense of direction. We all have capacities and skills that shape what we can contribute. Although some of us may have more power or authority, all of us can move a mission forward if we embrace what is ours to do and uplift those around us with skill sets and lived experience we do not possess.
Everybody Poops. I’ve learned a lot from peers and through programs such as Leadership Montgomery and pivotal gatherings such as the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. But the potty-training guide Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi gets to the essence of my philosophy on management and leadership: we are all just people making our way in this world. Montgomery County operates in the rarefied region of the DMV where some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people reside alongside far too many neighbors struggling to meet their basic needs. Acknowledging that reality and prioritizing dignity and equity in how we treat all of our community members is integral to actualizing Manna’s vision of “Food for All.”
Plan the Work and Work the Plan. When you are serving some people in states of emergency—job loss, cancer diagnosis, divorce, pandemic — quick action is essential. At the same time, chronic inequalities, structural injustices, and fossilized approaches can shape and impede responses. Prioritizing collaborative, methodical, and strategic activities to inform and inspire leads to more effective work in the moment and the long run. Without goals and implementation plans, it is difficult to create partnerships and steward resources, especially when working on complex, inter-related issues like hunger, health, and housing. Perhaps even worse, knee jerk actions, even when they come from a place of compassion, can perpetuate a mindset of charity for the “other” rather than justice for our neighbors. (see Point #2 above)
Even with 10 years at Manna, and three decades of not-for-profit service under my belt, I don’t have everything figured out. In fact, I seriously considered writing this letter as a list of “My top cringe-worthy moments as CEO.” I still have a lot to learn. Still, supporters like you, the amazing Manna team of staff and volunteers, my family, and friends have helped sustain me over the last decade. I’m grateful to be able to reflect and share in this space and others. I look forward to our November 11th celebration: please join us and let me know what you think. You can also, as always, reach me by email and phone. When we connect, I’ll be sure to thank you for the honor of serving Manna Food Center and Montgomery County.
Manna Food Center graphic