Thursday, June 19, 2008

ANSA: More Than an Acronym

What’s in an acronym? Usually neither the acronym itself, nor the upper case words that form it, provides a true understanding of what the abbreviation means. I just returned from a few days in Philadelphia attending the 15th annual ANSA conference. ANSA stands for the Association of Nutrition Services Agencies, but neither the acronym nor its defining words captures the essence of this organization and its dedicated members who have created a model of care for people who are ill and need food and nutrition.


ANSA was born out of the AIDS crisis in the United States. From Los Angeles to New York City, from Boston to Atlanta, groups of people were coming together in the 1980s to cook meals for people in their communities who were sick, and in those days too often dying from AIDS. The idea was simple. In the absence of any treatment for HIV/AIDS maybe delicious meals, delivered to homebound clients, would help them fight off opportunistic infections. The delivery itself – made by a volunteer to people who were also often feeling isolated and stigmatized – might actually prove more beneficial to those early clients than the meals themselves.


This outreach of compassion and care didn’t start as a government program or an organized national response to a public health crisis. Rather, it began in individual home kitchens, in church basements, and in abandoned restaurants. One person would make a meal or two and deliver them to a friend or neighbor with HIV/AIDS. Soon, there would be more people with the disease, and more meals being cooked and delivered, and more and more volunteers helping to prepare those meals. And around the country, these efforts became known by names that reflected the service they were providing to people with HIV/AIDS in their communities. In San Francisco and Atlanta, it was Project Open Hand. In New York, God’s Love We Deliver. Los Angeles started Project Angel Food, Seattle introduced the Chicken Soup Brigade, Boston had Community Servings, Washington, DC brought us Food & Friends, and in the Twin Cities, Open Arms began service in 1986.


In city after city, community members invested their time, energy, and resources to ensure that no one with HIV/AIDS would go hungry. Fifteen years ago, representatives from a handful of these pioneering agencies got together in Atlanta to compare notes and to share ideas and best practices with each other. The result of that inaugural meeting was the creation of ANSA – an association that has proven to be an invaluable resource to organizations like Open Arms.


Initially, ANSA convened an annual conference where workshops on nutrition, volunteerism, program creation, and development were discussed. At a time when few corporations were funding HIV/AIDS, ANSA served as a conduit for millions of dollars in funding from Philip Morris and Altria. Innovative ANSA members around the country began expanding their missions to do even more in their cities – to incorporate other disease populations and services into their programs. Seeing the global impact of HIV/AIDS in the developing world, ANSA launched an international program which now supports work in Namibia, Rwanda, and South Africa. Sensing the importance of advocacy at the highest levels of government, ANSA has taken a leadership role on issues of nutrition and hunger in the halls of Congress in Washington, DC.


ANSA is more than an acronym. It is an association of people, now from around the world, whose “true north” as ANSA director Frank Abdale says, “is a conviction that no one who is ill should go hungry.”


For more information on ANSA, visit

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Feeding Soul and Body

I am a committed advocate for the arts in the Twin Cities.


Our household supports the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and Minnesota Public Radio. We have season tickets to the Guthrie Theater. Much of my early non-profit experience was in the arts, doing projects for organizations like the Playwrights’ Center, Film in the Cities, and Theater Three. I served on the board of directors for Julia Carey’s The Theatre Exchange and Casey Stangl’s Eye of the Storm Theater, as well at Patrick Scully’s Patrick’s Cabaret. I reviewed funding proposals for both the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council. Nearly 20 years ago, I wrote an op-ed piece for the Minneapolis Star Tribune urging the Twin Cities to mobilize for the arts. In that editorial I quoted Katherine Anne Porter who said, “Art, fleeting and fragile, is the most enduring thing of all. The arts outlive governments and even societies that create them. They are we find again when the ruins are cleared away.”


I am thrilled that the Twin Cities arts scene is far from in ruins. The vibrant art scene here improves the quality of life for all of us. I am proud to live in a community that has invested nearly a half a billion dollars in capital campaigns for arts organizations. It is added value that some of these structures – like the Walker and the Guthrie – are iconic architectural destinations.

I applaud the overwhelming support that all of these capital campaigns for the arts have received in recent years in Minnesota.


These campaigns help to feed the soul. Now it’s time to use some of this community’s resources to feed the body.


A little over one year ago, Open Arms announced an $8 million capital campaign to construct a new building and to expand our programming to ensure that no one who is dealing with a chronic and progressive disease should also go hungry. Our campaign would allow us to build a new home with a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen from which we could annually cook over 500,000 nutritious meals for people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, ALS, Parkinson’s, and many other diseases.


An added value of our campaign is a commitment to remain in the Phillips Neighborhood of Minneapolis. Open Arms’ new home will be at the intersection of 25th Street and Bloomington Avenue and, while being fiscally responsible, we intend to construct a building that will, in its own way, be an architectural destination in Phillips.


Today, we have secured $5 million to support our capital campaign – approximately 1% of the investment that the Twin Cities has recently made in capital campaign for arts organizations. We intend to break ground in the fall of this year and be operating out of our new building by the end of 2009.


Vibrant communities need a healthy arts scene. They also need healthy citizens. We have the resources to provide both. We have fed the soul. Now let’s feed the body by supporting Open Arms’ capital campaign.