Mike Flannery (left, in ballcap) directs efforts as students from the Elijah School fill backpacks for the Agape Program.

Feeding the hungry

UD's Flannerys provide food to those in need in nearby Maryland

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1:11 p.m., Feb. 23, 2012--Edwina and Mike Flannery both have full-time jobs at the University of Delaware.  Edwina is a custodian, working in Robinson Hall, and Mike works in Facilities Maintenance and Operations in the HVAC shop.  In June 2008, they were moved to another purpose -- feeding the hungry of Cecil County, Md.

Armed with their faith and the support of several area churches, including Grace Bible Chapel, the Flannerys began making sandwiches and delivering them to the homeless in Elkton, Md., one night a week.  From there, the growth of their operation -- called Nicanor -- was almost inevitable. 

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In November 2008, Nicanor became a registered non-profit organization and by March 2009, they were serving food every first Sunday of the month and every Thursday.

On a visit to North East, Md., the Flannerys recognized one of the patrons from Elkton and discovered that a local community of homeless people there had not eaten in the past two days, relying on what they could find in trash bins.  The Flannerys added North East as the next community to be served, and quickly turned their attention to Aberdeen and Port Deposit, as well.

In Aberdeen, the Flannerys posted fliers announcing the Nicanor food service and four hours later, 46 people arrived to be served a meal, perhaps their first full meal in days.

“These people are struggling to make ends meet,” Edwina Flannery said.  “We all have to look out for one another, are all called to help our brothers and sisters. We need to remember that nothing is too big or too small.”

She quietly emphasized that they serve a nutritionally balanced meal, with protein, vegetables and a starch, and that there is always bread and butter because it so effectively fills a hungry stomach.  In the summer, meals include fresh fruit and they try to provide a dessert -- a simple feast for those who would otherwise remain hungry.

In addition to serving fresh food, the Flannerys bring along canned goods to hold patrons over until the next visit, stressing the importance of targeting the real problem of hunger by providing food, not money, to those in need.

Nicanor has become a traveling pantry, with 5-gallon containers of hot water and commercial grade food carriers.  The Flannerys and their dedicated volunteers only need a parking lot in order to serve.  Though they occasionally use church buildings to come in from the cold, they spend most of their year in outdoor spaces.

Agape: Backpacks for school children

Most recently, the Flannerys began a new phase of their mission, a backpack program.  At the end of each school week, children are sent home with a backpack filled with a weekend’s worth of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.  The Agape program currently serves 50 children through a partnership with Cecil County Public School System, with plans to expand to 75 as resources allow.  

“More than half of the 400 kids at this school would be eligible to receive backpacks,” said Edwina Flannery, highlighting the demand for this program.

Financial assistance has been provided for the program through the Cecil County VLT Local Impact Grant Program, sponsored by the county's governing board of commissioners.  The rest is based on the generosity of the community.

Students from the Elijah School in Rising Sun, Md., share their time every Wednesday afternoon to pack the backpacks.  In a tight storage room, they quickly and efficiently pack the bags.  On long weekends, backpacks are supplemented with an extra day’s food.  Over longer school breaks, multiple deliveries are made to ensure that the children are provided for until school starts again.

Charity of others

In 2011, Nicanor served more than six tons of food representing 6,500 meals and handed out 1,800 pounds of clothing, blankets, tents, sleeping bags and toiletries.

Nicanor relies on the charity of others to provide space for storing equipment, food and donations.  Needed as badly as supplies, however, is the donation of volunteer time and expertise.  The Flannerys receive requests from area towns to provide services but together they dedicate six days a week to food service and preparation.  They cannot expand without reliable help.

For anyone interested in contributing to the Flannerys’ service to the community, they are currently in need donations of goods and funds, but also of volunteers to prepare and serve meals and to assist with many of the administrative functions of running a nonprofit, especially bookkeeping.  

Contact Mike Flannery at 410-658-1858.

Article by Tabitha Groh

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