Open Arms Minnesota

16 08 2009

By Meredith Hart

Zucchini after zucchini, squash after squash. Zucchini, squash, zucchini, squash. Chop, chop, chop, chop, chop.
Interns Chopping - by Lila Gilbert
After thirty solid minutes of quartering summer squash, we began to develop blisters. It may sound like we were in the back of a busy restaurant, working hard to prepare dishes for antsy customers but we were not. The squash massacre occurred in the humble kitchen of Open Arms Minnesota, a non-profit in Minneapolis that prepares and delivers hundreds of meals a week to Twin Cities residents battling HIV/AIDS and cancer. Not only does the community around each plate exist between the organization and its clients but also the thousands of volunteers, staff members, and donors that help out every day preparing and delivering food, managing the office, and providing resources. To be a part of the Open Arms community is special because not only are you providing a service to people in need but you are also getting the feeling that your work matters. This is especially true for Aleisha Dudley, the Assistant Food Services Director at Open Arms.

“I wanted to take a step back and do something that I can feel good about,” said Aleisha with a smile. And certainly taking a job at Open Arms Minnesota was the perfect way to achieve this goal.

Each day from sun up to sun down the busy office and kitchen of Open Arms is alive with the bustle of staff members and volunteers, all performing tasks that come together as a fantastic production. With over 530 clients, the operations must be tightly synchronized in order to assure that the thousands of meals prepared each week make it to the mouths of the people they serve in Minneapolis.

“It’s like a ballet every day, all these people and pieces have to come together and there’s always someone with a sprained ankle,” said Kay Mitchell, the Director of Programs and Planning, speaking of the difficulties of achieving such a complicated mission.

Delivery Bags - by Meredith HartDespite the organizational challenges, Open Arms has managed to make significant leaps since its beginnings in a church basement over 20 years ago. Although originally it served exclusively HIV/AIDS patients and their families, the organization could no longer turn away the people with other illnesses that were in need of healthy meals as well.

“Eventually we decided there was more room at our table,” said Kay. And in 2004 meals were loaded into the trunks of volunteer vans and delivered to the homes of breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, and ALS patients.

Ever since the start, their numbers have increased exponentially. During the entire year of 2006, Open Arms served 138,627 free meals but that was nothing compared to the 145,026 meals served in just the first half of 2009.

Open Arms truly outdoes itself, however, in its most recent effort: to serve as much organic and local produce as possible. Because their food is either bought through grants or donated by local coops and farmers this new goal comes at a hefty price, sometimes three times more than normal. Still, they know that the healthier the food, the better they are doing their job.

“If the work is authentic, money follows,” said Kay with confidence. It has. Every year since its inception, the organization has come out financially even, never sacrificing for or gaining from its work but creating a community of people dedicated to eliminating hunger.

From the endearing look on the clients’ faces, it is no doubt this dedication is appreciated.

After filling a 15-gallon bucket to the brim with bite-sized yellow and green summer squash, we removed our ladybug-printed aprons and bandannas and prepared to make a meal delivery. Despite the detailed driving directions we still managed to make three U-turns on our delivery route but as the heavy door of a small apartment swung open, revealing the beaming face of a client, we forgot all about our navigational frustrations. The following deliveries were just as fulfilling as we were welcomed and thanked many times over.

Zucchini Bread - by Meredith HartOnce we left it’s very possible that one of the recipients, a breast cancer patient, could have began to pack the freezer with the new meals. She may have noticed a few of her choices for the week: roasted organic squash from The Women’s Environmental Institute in North Branch, MN, a vegetable frittata with eggs from Larry Schultz in Owatonna, MN, or a whole-wheat pasta dish with free-range beef meatballs from 1000 Hills Cattle in Cannon Falls, MN. These meals get as locals as a jaunt to the farmers’ market and as delicious as a trip to grandma’s and yet, they are enjoyed by hundreds.

“The closer to home the food would be produced, the better it would be for our clients,” said Kay, enthusiastically.

Close to home means a lot of things at Open Arms. It may be the commute for a regular volunteer, the motivation for a donation from an illness survivor, or the aroma of a locally sourced traditional dinner. As Open Arms opens its arms wider, its community grows stronger and its home gets bigger. Like their motto says, they “nourish body, mind, and soul” and this is true not just of their clients but everyone in their vast community lucky enough to get a taste of the Open Arms mission.

To view more photos of Open Arms, please see the Flickr slideshow.




One response

11 01 2010
Sam Kedem

in response to an article on meal donations to help ailing people (Aug 16 09, cat. COP TC MN): we raise organic produce & eggs; would like to donate eggs, pumpkins & / or apples to the program; if interested please let us know

Love this article, unfamiliar with this organization; can be circulated among farmer markets, co-ops & other growers organizations.
Sam Kedem

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