Maddie Chaytor and Kara Pouli with their truckload of "Manna Bags." DON RICKERS

In the Bible, “manna” was food God supplied to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt. Two Pelham girls have taken the scriptural lesson to heart at Christmastime, providing “Manna Bags” filled with food, toiletries, and other gift items for the needy.

Kara Pouli, 18, and Maddie Chaytor, 17, told the Voice that they felt a need to help out the community in some way, especially at Christmas. They came up with an idea to stuff some grocery bags with food for those who are hungry and homeless, and living in shelters. The plan soon expanded dramatically, as the girls started fundraising through Instagram and Facebook, receiving donations from local businesses, and then hosting an online auction.

“We now have 100 food bags to deliver,” said Chaytor.

The girls spread the word of their project not only via the internet, but also through their church communities. Chaytor attends Heritage Reform Congregation in Jordan, and is in her final year at Jordan Christian School. Pouli is a member at Vineland Free Reformed Church, and is taking online courses at Michigan State University.

“Before long, people were making anonymous donations, and asking how they could help,” said Pouli. “We decided to call our little organization Manna Bags, manna meaning ‘an unexpected or gratuitous benefit.’ With all the donations, we were able to get the supplies together, and then got the idea to have young school children decorate the paper bags. We hope that the bags will not only offer food and other necessities of life, but also joy in colors and drawings the kids put on the bags.”

Chaytor and Pouli will be dropping the gift bags off at homeless shelters in the region during the next few weeks. One stop will be at Start Me Up Niagara, which operates two temporary winter shelters as part of its Out of the Cold program. Start Me Up has a long-standing partnership with the local faith community, and through various churches offers a coordinated approach to providing hot meals to those experiencing poverty and homelessness. The programs operate from the first of November until the end of March.