Olla Rae Chicola
At 11:15 am each day, a line forms outside of a previously well-known grocery store. The men, women and children of all ages and races, some homeless, some unemployed, some living on fixed incomes and others who are considered the working poor gather to enjoy a well-balanced meal. More than 3,000 volunteers per year work at Manna House, a soup kitchen that feeds between 200 and 300 individuals each day, seven days a week.
Manna House was established on May 1, 1990 when Mrs. Olla Rae Chicola donated her grocery store for the project. Reverend Gerard Foley initiated the idea to feed the hungry who were slipping through the social safety net in the Alexandria, LA community of 131,000. Mrs. Chicola told her family that she was going to let them use the store, but two weeks before opening the volunteers called and asked her how they would get food to distribute. Mrs. Chicola has been there ever since using her contacts in the grocery business to locate food sources, obtain equipment and furnishings, plan menus, raise funds and perform bookkeeping activities. She also recruits volunteers from all areas of the community including youth and church groups, professional and civic associations, college students and retirees.
With more than 700,000 meals served since its opening, finding food is a major effort. Donations are provided by local grocery store owners, Cabrini Hospital, the food bank, local caterers, individuals and a special FDA program. Manna House was started by Cabrini Catholic Church, but is currently operating as a private nonprofit organization.