Alex Cross, a seminarian at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, loads a food box into a client car during an April 24 distribution sponsored by archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services (NDS) and hosted by Holy Innocents Parish in Philadelphia. On May 16, NDS launched “Manna Sunday,” an online food drive to offset a summer slump in donations to its food cupboards throughout the five-county archdiocesan area. (Gina Christian)

With summer only days away, an archdiocesan agency is looking to offset an anticipated seasonal slump in supplies at its food pantries.

Nutritional Development Services (NDS) kicked off its annual “Manna Sunday” Food Drive May 16, an online collection that enables supporters to purchase non-perishable food items through the YouGiveGoods platform for direct shipment to the agency.

Now in its third decade, the initiative — named for the edible substance God provided the Israelites during their 40-year journey in the desert (Ex 16:4-36) — helps NDS to prepare for the “desert” of the summer months, when supplies at its pantries tend to thin with donors on vacation and schools closed.

“People aren’t usually thinking of those who are hungry at that time,” said NDS executive director Lizanne Hagedorn.

From now until June 16, donors can select kitchen staples such as canned tuna and chicken, pasta, beans, rice, cereal, peanut butter and jelly for as little as $16.99 per case, or choose assorted food boxes ranging from $50 to $250.

To bolster the effort, parishes and schools are also encouraged to host on-site food drives within the coming weeks.

NDS will distribute the items throughout its network of more than 50 community cupboards in the five-county archdiocesan area, which have been a lifeline for area households during the pandemic.

Last year, the drive netted close to 75,000 pounds of non-perishables – but demand for food assistance has soared under COVID.

According to the national nonprofit Feeding America, 42 million people may face hunger due to the pandemic, despite several rounds of stimulus checks, and food banks have seen a 55% increase in client traffic over the past several months.

Since October 2020, NDS — which also administers U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) school meal programs — has coordinated more than 10 weekend food distributions to bolster day-to-day responses to COVID-related hunger, handing out over 5,000 meal boxes and 56,000 student meal kits to date.

Children are at particular risk for food insecurity during the summer months. With classes out of session, some 18 million kids end up disconnected from the USDA meals, Feeding America notes.

Even temporary hunger can have a lasting impact on children, for whom food insecurity increases the risk of anemia, asthma, hospitalization, developmental impairments in language and motor skills, and social and behavioral problems.

For more information on NDS’ “Manna Sunday” Food Drive, visit NDS’s YouGiveGoods site or contact Denise Hopkins, administrator of the NDS Community Food Program, at 215-895-3470 ext. 77823 or dhopkins@ndsarch.org.