MANNA to honor local, national leaders

About 500 people are expected to attend the first-annual Nourish Awards of the Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutritional Alliance, which will honor the contributions of health leaders from around the country.

The event, which will be held from 6-9:30 p.m. May 12 at the 23rd Street Armory, 22 S. 23rd St., will feature a dinner party produced by Stephen STARR Events and Evantine Design, in addition to a silent auction and music by DJ John Gill.

MANNA, which provides nutritional meals to those struggling with life-threatening illnesses, will present its inaugural Nourish Awards to M•A•C AIDS Fund and M•A•C Cosmestics, the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine and R. Duane Perry, founder of The Food Trust.

MANNA CEO Richard Keaveney said the agency established the awards event during a restructuring of its slate of fundraisers.

“Our strategy was to have fewer events because, like all nonprofits, we found that these events are pretty costly to produce,” he said. “So when we were designing our event platform, we were talking about how we wanted to make the focus not just about fundraising, but also on raising awareness of our commitment to the entire healthcare industry. So we decided to create an event that can celebrate institutions, companies and individuals who really make a difference in healthcare and nutrition.”

Keaveney said the event is not going to be the run-of-the-mill awards dinner.

“There’s not going to be a ballroom with a stage and podiums and long speeches; there will be a lot of alternative seating, with sofas, small tables, living-room settings, and the awards presentation will be just about 15 minutes and will include audio-visual. It’s going to be theatrical and very high-energy. And once the awards are presented, we’re not going to be interrupting the guests, but just let them enjoy the STARR food, the Evantine ambiance and the music by John Gill.”

Though the awards presentation will be brief, Keaveney said all the recipients have a long commitment to promoting good health, which Perry’s Food Trust has undertaken as part of it mission.

“Duane was selected because he’s been at the forefront — probably before anyone else in our area — on health food, nutrition and education, and especially in educating poor communities,” he said. “At MANNA, we only serve our clients during the acute portion of an illness, and when that person returns to good health, they need to be knowledgeable and educated on proper nutrition, so groups like Food Trust are very good allies and complement our work.”

Perry founded the agency in 1992, while he was working at Reading Terminal Market.

“I became convinced that there were opportunities to take the special spirit and expertise of what happens at Reading Terminal Market around food retailing and expand that into other communities,” he said.

The agency launched with just one-and-a-half employees at a small table in Reading Terminal and, in the past 18 years has grown to perform work throughout the nation and most recently has attracted attention from the First Lady. The agency works with schools, community organizations, housing developments and other venues to promote education about the need for nutrition and to connect people directly with healthy foods.

“We’re dedicated to trying to increase access to affordable and nutritional foods, primarily in underserved communities, but it’s something that needs to be available to everyone. We try to get good food into neighborhoods where places like Reading Terminal Market or even just supermarkets are few and far between.”

Perry said he’s been a longtime supporter of MANNA and envisions his agency working with the organization on future projects, as MANNA expands its mission to enhance educational opportunities for its clients.

“This is really a great honor, because MANNA is such an inspirational organization,” Perry said. “When you think of all the volunteers who helped create that organization and the countless hours and all the sweat that has gone into helping it fulfill its mission, it’s really amazing to be recognized by an organization like that.”

The other two Nourish awardees have also made extensive strides in the area of HIV/AIDS service and health education.

Keaveney noted that M•A•C was one of the first national companies to “put their money where their mouth was” and fund HIV/AIDS projects, and its service reflects MANNA’s ongoing work in the HIV/AIDS field. In 2006, MANNA expanded its mission beyond nourishing those with HIV/AIDS to include all people struggling with a life-threatening illness and, since that time, has worked closely with the Abramson Cancer Center, which Keaveney said has been a dedicated partner.

The Nourish Awards are expected to raise up to $200,000 for MANNA. For more information or to purchase tickets, which are $250, visit www.mannapa.org or call (215) 496-2662.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].