As we prepare to break ground on Open Arms’ new building on Saturday, September 27, I find myself reflecting on all of the events of the past 22 years that have brought us to this point.
It was our founder, Bill Rowe, who saw that people with HIV/AIDS needed nutritious meals to feed their body, and the visit from a compassionate volunteer to feed their soul. He never imagined, when he prepared that first dinner for five men with AIDS from the kitchen of his apartment, that Open Arms would still be addressing a critical need in this community over two decades later.
It was Open Arms’ phenomenal growth in the past four years that triggered our capital campaign – The Kitchen Campaign: Building the Future of Open Arms – an $8.1 million endeavor that will allow us to construct a new building and expand our programming to serve even more people in the Twin Cities living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic and progressive diseases.
In the summer of 2004 Open Arms was serving 200 people with HIV/AIDS, and our resources were stretched. We were running out of cooler and freezer space to store food and prepared meals. We lacked the volunteers needed to cook and deliver meals. Our small, dedicated staff was working beyond their limits. And we were facing the possibility of the first deficit in our history. It was a time when Open Arms could have easily decided to do less, but we knew that the need in the community was much greater than the 200 clients we were serving. So, we decided to do more.
We installed additional coolers and freezers. We added Saturday and evening volunteer shifts in the kitchen to increase meal production. We surveyed our clients and discovered that 75% of them preferred a weekly delivery of all their meals rather than the daily delivery they had been receiving for the first two decades of our service. We created new menus to better meet the nutrition requirements of people living with disease and to offer our clients more choice in their meal selection. We developed Nausea Care Packs filled with items like ginger ale and saltine crackers – food our clients told us they could almost always tolerate, even if nausea prevented them from eating meals. And we made a critical decision to enhance our service to people living with HIV/AIDS while also expanding our program to serve people affected by other chronic and progressive diseases such as breast cancer, MS and ALS.
I believe that when you do the right thing, good things happen. And good things happened at Open Arms. By helping more people, more people helped us. More volunteers filled our kitchen and delivery shifts. More community members donated money to allow us to fund our expansion. The shift from daily deliveries to a weekly delivery conserved fuel and avoided a potential crisis for delivery when gasoline prices soared to record levels. And not only did we begin serving meals to people living with diseases like cancer, we actually saw a dramatic increase in the request for service from people living with HIV/AIDS.
Four years ago, Open Arms served 89,136 meals to people living with HIV/AIDS. This year, we will serve 250,000 meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, MS, ALS, as well as our clients’ affected caregivers and dependent children. We are committed to serving as many meals to as many people as we possibly can from our current facility, but we know that sometime in the next 12 months we will reach capacity in our existing building. There simply will be no more space to cook the meals and inadequate space to cool and freeze them. That is why Saturday, September 27 is such an important day in Open Arms’ history.
Breaking ground on our new building at 25th &