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Osher Collects Hundreds of Pounds of Food, Thousands of Dollars for Manna


In 2008, as the economy worsened and news reports focused on joblessness, Sy Sokatch got an idea.

What if Osher members held a food drive during the holiday season?

A tradition began.

“There were about 400-500 Osher members at the time,” said his wife, Ann. (Sy died in 2010.) “We were mostly retired, most of us were grandparents and most of us were in a financial situation to help. He alone at the time contacted Manna, got permission from Osher administrators to conduct a food drive and made announcements in all of the classes, talking up the need in the county and appealing to our members’ generosity.”

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the Johns Hopkins University now has more than 700 members. They are senior citizens who take non-credit courses in a wide range of subjects. Each year, Osher members collect food for Manna Food Center. In recent years, members have focused more on monetary contributions because Manna can leverage a $1 contribution into $3 to $5 worth of food.

Ann Sokatch remains involved in the food drive, which is now overseen by Osher member Gordon Fields.

This year, Osher members donated soup, pasta, cereal, canned vegetables, mashed potato mixes, baby wipes, toothbrushes and other items. Over the course of nine days, they collected approximately 460 pounds of food and roughly $11,000.

Sokatch said: “Those of us involved, from the people who contribute to those who are doing the legwork, feel a sense of supporting our community and hope that we are contributing in a meaningful way. One of the things my husband would say when describing the need in our community was to address the grandparents, asking them to imagine if their grandkids were going hungry. This was a great motivator, and people were happy to give. This drive also helps give Osher a sense of being part of a larger community that we may not be that in touch with.”

Manna, the main food bank in Montgomery County, feeds about 38,000 people annually, and collects and distributes more than 4 million pounds of food a year to qualifying families.

“The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute food and funds drive is so important to Manna as we prepare for increased demand for food during the holiday season,” said Stephanie Hubbard, director of development and communications for Manna. “Osher’s contributions helped Manna serve 11,832 individuals experiencing hunger last year during the month of November. This year we are expecting similar, if not higher, numbers of neighbors in need.” 

Hubbard said Manna greatly appreciates the collaboration with Osher and the members’ work to ensure the drive continues to be successful each year.

Said Fields: “It’s important to any engaged citizen to reach out to the less fortunate in their community. That may be particularly true for our population, the majority of whom are retired and financially stable. We can always meet charitable goals by direct, personal contributions, but it furthers a sense of being part of the Osher community to participate in a tangible group activity.”