By Martie Thompson

Bonnie McNulty, the long-time co-director of the Mandarin Food Bank, said she can hardly believe it’s been 31 years since the food bank opened. What started as the idea of a member of the Social Concerns Committee of St. Joseph’s Church in 1991 has grown both literally and in outreach over the years. McNulty, a nurse, was a relatively new resident of Mandarin and was looking for a service opportunity. She said she had “reluctantly” left the family’s prior home in Annapolis, Maryland due to her husband’s job with CSX and getting involved with the Social Concerns Committee was a perfect fit. Today, McNulty and her husband Patrick still live in Mandarin and she spends many hours, along with co-director Mary Kaminski, ensuring the smooth running of Mandarin’s most known food bank. 

Q: How did you end up settling in Mandarin when you moved to Florida?
A: My husband was transferred here with his job and I was sad to leave my hometown of Annapolis and all my family and friends. I would say I even felt sorry for myself at the time. We looked all over Jacksonville and decided on Mandarin since we were sailors and wanted to be close to the St. Johns River with our sailboat. Also, our daughter Trish, who was 12 at the time, was accepted at St. Joseph Catholic School. 

Q: Did you resume your nursing career in Jacksonville?
A: I considered it, but I didn’t. We had a lot of families move to our street who had also been transferred to Jacksonville with CSX and I became friendly with Evelyn Gambill, who introduced me to the Social Concerns Committee at St. Joseph’s. Members of the committee reached out to the poor and hungry and went to nursing homes and homes for people with special needs. From this committee came the idea for the Mandarin Food Bank and I became the co-director shortly after it opened in 1991.

Q: What can you tell us about the beginning of the Mandarin Food Bank?

A: At first, we built a 900 square foot building with no running water. It was basically a shed. Eventually we were able to run a very long telephone cord from the rectory so we could have a phone. We had electricity and air conditioning, but no heat. We started with 16 women and were open every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. When we first opened, Father Dan Cody spoke to the leaders of other churches in Mandarin and invited them to send us people who needed help and also volunteers. The Mandarin Food Bank continues to be very ecumenical. We have 175 volunteers at this time from all over … many churches, civic organizations, and neighborhoods. We come from all walks of life and bring different experiences that help us grow our ministry. We couldn’t be successful without our volunteers.

We felt that when we opened our doors, the community of Mandarin formed a circle of love around us. We have always felt their support and we thank them. 

Q: How has the Mandarin Food Bank grown?
A: Physically, we have had two additions to the original food bank. In 1996 we added a bathroom for our volunteers, a walk-in freezer, and a kitchen. The second addition in 2005 provided space for our Clothes Closet, our donation garage, our “big room” for all donations, and an attic for storage. We currently have 5,000 square feet.

In terms of outreach, we have added a Life Skills program with a goal to help clients provide nutritious, budget-friendly meals for their family. In May, we started hosting financial seminars with another class due to start in August. 

Q: What does the Mandarin Food Bank need the most if people wish to donate?

A: Protein is our most needed item. We love to see items like canned meats, spaghetti sauce with meat, beans (dried or canned), and peanut butter donated. We also need rice, macaroni and cheese, and hot and cold cereal. Basically, anything you would put on your table, we would like our clients to be able to put on their table.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A:  I enjoy creative writing. I love to read and cook and I love to be with my family.

Photo courtesy Bonnie McNulty
Bonnie McNulty

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