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MANNA Volunteer: Work Widens, Deepens You
Smack dab in the center of the Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance rests a whiteboard that serves as a briefing point for staff members and volunteers. Neat rows of colored symbols, like ancient glyphs, adhere to the white space, encoding the day's necessary information: delivery routes, drivers, meal types. For Revelle Gershman -- one of MANNA's longtime volunteers -- organizing this display is a feat of near-artistry.
Gershman didn't quite know what she was getting into when she first began such work.
After her husband passed away, she decided to donate some of his clothing; a neighbor suggested she give them to MANNA. After doing so, Gershman decided to help out in the office for one day a week. One day became two. Then, before she knew it, she had spent more than a decade with the food-distribution organization in downtown Philadelphia.
The organization operates a full-fledged kitchen, used in the mornings to prepare food that's loaded onto trucks, which traverse the city making deliveries. Some meals are sealed and frozen in a walk-in freezer, to be delivered at a later time.
MANNA distributes approximately 2,400 meals a day to people in nutritional risk throughout Philadelphia and its surrounding counties because of HIV/AIDS and other illnesses. Its 800 clients receive three meals a day -- cooked by staff and volunteers -- delivered to their homes.
Though the 76-year-old Gershman was born in Philly, her family left when she was young, returning again when she was a teen. She graduated from Temple University, and in 1954 bought a one-way ticket to France, where she was preparing to live. If that didn't work out, Plan B was to move to Israel.
Then she met the man who became her husband, and her aspirations for a life on foreign shores were replaced with a reason to stay in the good old USA.
She and her husband raised two sons and a daughter; Gershman now has two grandchildren as well. She said that her sense of family and caring serves her well in her volunteer work.
She interacts with people of every race, creed and orientation who come to help out there, and who receive food from the organization. "People are people," she added, noting that there are no lines dividing anyone in the business of helping others.
The resident of Havertown has cultivated many friendships with clients, staff and other volunteers. She felt pangs of sadness when one client she particularly befriended passed away. She had visited him through his hospital stays and hospice care, and kept her promise to attend his funeral.
"The void is there," she said, noting that it is a difficult time for everyone when a client dies.
Of her work, she offered, "it widens you as an individual, and it deepens you."
Gershman said that she gets "an extraordinary feeling" at the end of the year, when the center is packed to the brim with extra volunteers working long hours from Thanksgiving through the end of December.
And then there's travel, which remains one of her great loves. Though she never moved abroad as planned, she takes time to see the world.
"It's a passion that has never diminished," she said, noting that she often visits Paris. She's even traveled to Europe with some of her fellow MANNA volunteers.
"It's an extension of my family," she said of the group. "It's the personal touch. You're not just doing a job."
Gershman was also once an active member of Main Line Reform Temple, Beth Elohim in Wynnewood, where she served as Sisterhood president and sat on the board of trustees.
And the work isn't just about ensuring that people have necessities: "It's more than providing food; it's truly a mitzvah."