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Steven Korman on Founding MANNA & What to Expect Next

By Kristin Detterline | June 14, 2017 | People

MANNA champion Steve Korman talks about the Philadelphia nonprofit’s new home and major plans to feed more than two million people in 2017.


A man with a plan: MANNA’s Steven Korman inside the nonprofit’s new Art Museum facility.

The first thing you might notice while walking through MANNA’s massive new state-of-the-art kitchen is the stickers. Rows and rows of neatly packaged meals are marked with round dots in a rainbow of primary colors.

This seemingly minuscule detail is key to keeping the Philadelphia nonprofit running like a well-oiled machine. MANNA, founded in 1990 to provide food for the city’s HIV/AIDS population, delivers healthy meals to those living with life-threatening illnesses throughout the Delaware Valley and may be best known for the hugely popular Pie in the Sky pie fundraiser each Thanksgiving. Something is always cooking in this kitchen: In 2016, MANNA delivered roughly one million meals to 3,000 clients. That’s three meals a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, all planned by dieticians and prepared entirely by volunteers. Each meal packaged contains up to three combinations of colored stickers to ensure that drivers deliver the right food to the right clients.

But it’s not just about making sure food arrives in South Philly instead of Swarthmore. The stickers relay critical information about the meals: diabetic, low lactose, high protein, low fiber, to name a few. It’s an approach MANNA refers to as a pharmacy for your diet. Their “food as medicine” program has helped people with 72 different diseases last year and now serves as a model for similar organizations.

“MANNA feeds those who are dealing with all kinds of illnesses, from breast cancer to colon cancer and AIDS,” says Steven Korman, cochair of MANNA’s advisory board and the lead for their current capital campaign. “We have all types of menus to fit all different types of diseases.”

It’s nearly impossible to talk about MANNA without talking about Korman. The Philadelphia real estate developer, who founded Korman Communities, has been championing the nonprofit for more than 16 years, following his own brief but devastating illness.

“A dentist finally diagnosed me with a rare disease that he hadn’t seen a case of in 30 years,” says Korman. “I had a 10-day period of intense pain and I made my deal with God: If I recovered, then I would give back and help as many people as I could.” When he was finally well, Korman walked right into MANNA (then located in Rittenhouse Square), wrote a “very large check,” he says, and never looked back. “People living with AIDS were so brave,” he explains, recalling why he chose MANNA over other local organizations. “They didn’t have any resources.”


MANNA is behind the widely popular Pie in the Sky fundraiser each Thanksgiving. More than 500 volunteers prepare meals here for the holiday, compared to 125 volunteers the rest of the year.

Thanks to another very large check, Korman was one of the driving forces behind MANNA’s new headquarters at 20th and Hamilton Streets. The Art Museum location totals 23,000 square feet and was designed by Spectra-Con’s Rich Hubbert and Stanev Potts Architects. Here, more square footage means one thing: more meals. In 2017, MANNA is on track to jump from one million to 2.5 million meals a year, serving 2,500 individuals and families at one time. (MANNA also feeds any dependent family members living with those who are sick.) More importantly, the nonprofit is on track to take its program statewide. It’s all part of making sure that everyone has access to food as medicine, says Sue Daugherty, CEO of MANNA.

“I believe our new space on the Parkway gives us a stronger presence in the city, which we need,” says Daugherty, who has been with the organization since 1999. “In order for MANNA to be able to serve more folks, we need more people to know about our impact on the health system. We know our model works. Keeping people nourished in their homes is saving significant health care costs.”

With the new headquarters up and running, Korman is already hard at work on his next project. Details are still emerging, but Korman hopes that by aligning with like-minded individuals from other professions—Jefferson Health President and CEO Stephen K. Klasko and Project HOME President and Executive Director Sister Mary Scullion among them—that they can collectively answer the most urgent questions about how to help people in need.

“I want to tie this whole thing together,” says Korman. “This is my passion. It’s how I plan on spending the rest of my life.”