By Andy Smith
For the past five years, BC/EFA has offered larger grants to food providers that have expanded their services to include lower-income people battling life-threatening illnesses other than HIV/AIDS.
With a full-time staff of 16 and 1,400 volunteers*, Minneapolis-based Open Arms is a great example of this type of provider. “Over the next year, we’ll use this latest BC/EFA grant to cook and deliver 350,000 nutritious (and as often as possible, organic) meals to more than 1,000 people living with HIV/AIDS as well as other chronic and progressive illnesses, including breast cancer and MS,” says Kevin Winge, Open Arms’ Executive Director.
Since 2005, Open Arms has been delivering meals to twin cities residents living with more than 30 chronic diseases, including Lou Gehrig’s disease and many forms of cancer, as well as daily onsite meals for 35 clients with MS who live in a nearby facility.
For 19 years, the organization limited its services to people living with HIV/AIDS, and the decision to serve other populations wasn’t arrived at lightly, with some board members believing expanded service would dilute Open Arms’ mission and over-extend its staff and corps of volunteers.
“The requests from these other illness populations kept growing. Their need and suffering were so great, we had to reconsider,” he says. “It was a difficult decision at first, but now the board and staff agree that expanding our mission is one of the best things we’ve ever done.”
To keep up with this expanded mission, in 2010 Open Arms — the only meal delivery program in Minnesota — is moving into a new, expanded facility, one substantial enough to handle the agency’s demand for meal services in the years to come.
“Our old facility is 7000 square feet. The new facility is three times larger; the kitchen itself is 7000 square feet,” Winge says. “It’s slightly bigger than we need right now, but with our growing client base and an aging population, we will need room to grow.”
* Open Arms volunteers include hundreds from area businesses, includingAmerprise, Cargill, General Mills, Target and Wells Fargo, many of whom give up their lunch hours to deliver meals.