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Nonprofit Spotlight: Open Arms of Minnesota

Article by Claudia Kittock, photos by Rick Kittock

Editor's note - This is the seventh in a series of articles spotlighting local nonprofits.

A short time ago, friends of ours got married and asked that instead of gifts to them, people donate to Open Arms of Minnesota. I am embarrassed to admit I had never heard of Open Arms of Minnesota. My research and visit there uncovered an amazing place, dedicated to "nourishing mind, body, and soul”.

The mission of Open Arms of Minnesota is to provide food for people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, ALS, and multiple sclerosis. I learned that ‘it’s a simple notion: people who are sick should not be without food. Yet every day people in our community with life-threatening illnesses find themselves unable to shop or cook — and, often, without the support network to help.’

As a cancer survivor, I know how critical the idea of food as medicine is. While undergoing chemotherapy, I lost my sense of taste.  Everything tasted like sawdust and my interest in eating disappeared. I found quickly that I needed to force myself to eat just as I needed to force myself to take medicine in order to heal.  Without good nutrition, healing is difficult if not impossible. Open Arms of Minnesota focuses on people with these challenges and provides nutritious food.

We were treated to a tour and conversation with Lisa Lane, Senior Director of Development and Community Engagement, and Jeanne Foels the Communication Manager. I learned that a day in a hospital costs about $2,500, while a year of healthy food from Open Arms of Minnesota costs approximately $3,100. Food is not only medicine, it needs to be part of any discussion about health care.

Lisa Lane and Jeanne Foels

Often the sickest people are also the most food insecure. Cooking and caring for a family does not change when you're sick. Tasks of daily living do not stop when you have a life threatening illness, and Open Arms of Minnesota strives to ease that burden.

Open Arms of Minnesota began in 1986 when Bill Rowe became concerned about people he knew who had HIV/AIDS and, with no treatment at that time, were suffering from wasting syndrome and dying quickly. He began cooking!  He was joined by other friends and they moved to a church basement to expand their services. By 1998, the Open Arms of Minnesota kitchen cooked and delivered meals to 429 people over the course of the year. The average client was a 36 year-old gay man, living in South Minneapolis. Many of these clients struggled to not only access good nutrition, but to eat at all. Volunteers delivered meals every single day in the early years at Open Arms of Minnesota, and these calorie-rich hot meals were often the only things their clients ate.

In 2010, Open Arms of Minnesota moved to a wonderful new facility on 2500 Bloomington Avenue South. The new facility is a 21,000 square foot building with a state of the art kitchen and bakery. Meals are cooked and delivered to over 1000 clients each week within the circle of highways 694 and 494. 5500 volunteers work at Open Arms of Minnesota every year, providing over 69,000 hours of service, which is the equivalent of 30 full time employees.

Meals at Open Arms of Minnesota are more than just food!  
· The meals are a daily reminder that you are not alone in your journey.
· The chefs take care of the work, so people can spend their energy on what’s important in their life instead of shopping and cooking.
· The service eases your financial burden.
· Open Arms of Minnesota helps you care for your family’s nutritional needs.

Clients are referred to Open Arms of Minnesota by providers, and while 80% are below the poverty line, money is not a qualifying factor. To qualify for Open Arms of Minnesota’ meal delivery service, you need to be diagnosed with one of four life-threatening illnesses; cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis or ALS, and live in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The process can be started by accessing information online.

How can you help this amazing group? There are many ways. Donations are incredibly important and make a huge impact. Here are examples of what donations can do:
· $3,120 buys a year’s worth of meals   
· $1,680 buys a month’s worth of nausea care packs
· $500 buys five insulated delivery bags
· $240 buys a week’s worth of meals for a family of 4
· $60 buys a week’s worth of meals for a client
· $5 buys one delicious meal for a client

Open Arms of Minnesota holds fundraisers, including:
· Moveable Feast
· Open Arms of Minnesota Golf Classic
· Cook-a-thon

Claudia can be reached at

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