SOUTH SALT LAKE — Spending at least $200 on groceries every week is normal for Nicholas and Stephanie Mannino, especially when providing for six kids.
"You try not to just buy ramen," Nicholas Mannino said, smiling. "And fresh food isn’t cheap."
So the Layton couple was astonished after winning an entire year's worth of free groceries at the grand opening of the WinCo Foods store in South Salt Lake on Friday.
"Groceries are a pillar of one of the bills you pay each month," Nicholas Mannino said, "and to have that taken care of, it’s just, it’s amazing, it’s absolutely amazing."
The prepared meat brand Eckrich and WinCo Foods partnered with Operation Homefront to surprise the family and thank Nicholas Mannino for his military service.
"I think this is a small thank you for service members," said Hector Ortega, WinCo Foods store manager.
For Nicholas Mannino, the gift went beyond the need to buy groceries.
He received several awards while serving as an infantryman in the U.S. Army for six years. It was very easy to lose faith in humanity during his deployments, he said.
After his retirement in 2007 as a corporal, it was hard for him not to feel used up and thrown away on returning home.
"And then to have something like this," he said, looking around the store, "it reminds you that there is good. There’s good in the world, there’s good people."
His wife is a member of Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit that supports military families.
The couple didn't know about the gift when they were invited to the store's grand opening.
When they first arrived at the store, Eckrich spokeswoman Hannah Meadors took the couple on a $300 shopping spree. She helped them load their cart with various meats, milk and Thanksgiving items like stuffing and turkey.
"Definitely right here at the holiday season, this family could use a little extra help, and we’re glad to be able to help them out," Meadors said.
After the quick shopping spree, Ortega told the couple they would receive $10,400 in store gift cards to cover grocery expenses for an entire year.
Both Nicholas and Stephanie Mannino struggled to hold back tears
"Now we don’t have to tell (the kids) no when they want certain things," Stephanie Mannino said.
Receiving free lunches from school helps a lot with the grocery bill, she added, but sometimes it's easy to get overwhelmed by the cost of food for their kids, ages 15 to 1.
"If you want something of quality, you have to get the smaller quantity," Nicholas Mannino said. "That's usually what we have to do."4 comments on this story
The couple received $1,000 in gift cards at the event, while dozens of additional gift cards from the store will be mailed within the month.
"They don’t expire or anything, so they can use them as they need to," Meadors said.
The surprise came as a part of an ongoing campaign by Eckrich and Operation Homefront to honor military families across the nation.
"It’s really easy to not think that you’re worth anything," Nicholas Mannino said. "Random strangers are reminding you that’s not the way it is. You’re not forgotten. It’s big, it’s really big."