ROCHESTER - The first time Cheryl Huckins cooked up a mess of food to feed Rochester's homeless she made baked ziti. That was last April, she recalled, when the city was in a hard shutdown due to COVID.
"I knew they'd be hurting, unable to panhandle and I felt their need," said the longtime Barrington resident.
But her generosity ran afoul of city health rules, which didn't allow for the serving of food to the public not cooked in a commercially licensed kitchen.
Jessica Smith, and her son Bryan Thibodeau, 9 of Gonic, who every week takes it upon himself to bring a bagful of snacks and goodie bags
"Bob Veno (Rochester health officer) said I couldn't do it, but he gave me a generous personal donation toward what I was trying to do," Huckins said.
The next week she birthed Manna meals, which are prepared at Rochester restaurants and paid for by donations from private citizens.
On Wednesday during the Manna meals weekly disbursal behind First United Methodist Church, it must have seemed like her effort had gone full circle as 15 months after her humanitarian effort began with baked ziti, she proudly passed out 65 Manna meals - baked ziti - cooked and fully donated by Porter's Pub.
|One of the recipients of a Manna meal on Wednesday gives a thumbs up after seeing the size of the portion compliments of Porter's Pub on Hanson Street.|
On this week, no donations were even needed.
Huckins, a passionate bundle of energy who exudes positivity, has attracted a whole cadre of like-minded folk bent on helping the homeless and those less fortunate. At Wednesday's food pickup behind the United Methodist Church a dozen or so volunteers had lined three large tables with air mattresses, clothes, socks, dry goods, cans of soup, granola bars and bottled water among other goods.
"It's gone crazy since I did my first Manna meal last April," Huckins said proudly. "I was just gonna do this during the pandemic, but the need is still there. I can't stop now."
One woman's passion has infused energy into a whole community.
There's Byron Kimball from
|Volunteers unload two pickups full of provisions for the homeless and needy behind the United Methodist Church in Rochester during Wednesday's Manna meal delivery.|
Blessings, who gathers gently used clothing for those in need.
There's Christine and Steve Griffin, who operate a mobile food pantry and bring food to the table.
There's Tracie Hardekopf, director of the Strafford County Homeless Shelter who donates "tons of food" and on Wednesday, tons of brand new socks.
There's the person who donated $100 for Huckins to buy insulated bags that keep the Manna meals hot during winter months.
There's Jessica Smith, and her son Bryan Thibodeau, 9 of Gonic, who every week takes it upon himself to bring a bagful of snacks and goodie bags.
Huckins says she uses the outpouring of generosity to boost those down on their luck.
"I tell them they have to know they are loved, look at what's being given to them by anonymous donors," she said.
The real core of Manna meals, however, are the 15 or so city restaurants that buy, prepare and package the meals.
Huckins didn't want to name them, because she didn't want to inadvertently leave one out, but she said they include both chain and family restaurants.
She said Porter's Pub didn't charge anything for the baked ziti, but the way it usually works is a restaurant charges a small fee - maybe $5 of $6 per meal - to cover its cost. Then the public is invited to call the restaurant up and purchase the meal for a homeless person as a donation.
Huckins said she first began posting her requests for donations on the "You know you're from Rochester, NH, if you ..." Facebook page, but now advertises it on five different platforms adding to her reach.
"We got one person from Virginia who used to live in Rochester," she said. "She bought 10 dinners."
She said the restaurants have been absolutely spectacular, even as they, themselves, continue to struggle through the pandemic.
"This has been the most amazing thing," she said. "My eyes have been opened to the goodness in this community."
Manna meals and other items for those in need are available every Wednesday from 4:30-6 p.m. behind the United Methodist Church, most easily accessed off Central Street.