Saturday, March 28, 2009

Food Parcels on World TB Day

Tuesday, March 24 was World TB Day – a global effort to raise awareness of the high rates of tuberculosis in places like sub-Saharan Africa. There is a direct link between TB and HIV/AIDS and many of the people that Open Arms works with in Guguletu, South Africa are suffering from both diseases. Serious co-infections like this make appropriate medical treatment critical to potentially save the life of the person who is ill, and to also prevent the spread of drug-resistant strains of both TB and HIV/AIDS. Of course, medications taken in the absence of food is not an effective course of treatment for any illness.

Here is where Open Arms comes in. The model of care that was started for people with HIV/AIDS in the Twin Cities 23 years ago is proving to be just as helpful for people living with this same disease in South Africa today.

Early on the morning of World TB Day, trucks began arriving at the Zwane Community Centre in Guguletu bearing tons of food to be assembled into food parcels and distributed to people living with HIV/AIDS, their home care providers, as well as to the staff and volunteers at the Centre who daily work to provide services to the people of Guguletu. Throughout the day about 20 individuals, including three volunteers from Open Arms in Minneapolis, diligently worked to ensure that the 300 parcels would be ready for pick-up by the middle of the afternoon.

Twenty pound bags of rice, flour and maize were stacked on top of each other. Plastic buckets with lids were filled with beans, pasta, sugar, canned fish, spice, tea and coffee. Frozen chicken – the most popular item in the parcels – were placed in plastic bags. Although it is impossible to determine the difference this single parcel can make, we believe enough food is provided to assist a family of seven for nearly a month. One young man said that he and his wife and child would be eating from the food parcel for the rest of the year.

Open Arms’ first food parcel distribution for members of an HIV/AIDS support group began on World AIDS Day – December 1, 2003. That first year, about 100 parcels were provided. The amount of food included in a parcel, along with the number of parcels assembled and distributed, has increased year after year. Open Arms also went from providing parcels once a year on World AIDS Day, to including a second distribution in the spring of each year. Since the program began, Open Arms has sponsored approximately 3,500 food parcels.

Food prices have increased in South Africa and the cost of this spring’s program was higher than most years with each parcel costing approximately $43. Open Arms is grateful to all of our donors who sponsored a parcel for a family again this spring. As we heard many times on food parcel day, “Enkosi kakhulu.” Which translated from Xhosa means, “Thank you very much.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Message from Board President, Barbara Hoese

What drew me to volunteer at Open Arms, more than a decade ago, was a combination of a wonderful sense of optimism about the future that was balanced with a very pragmatic approach to the work of the organization. I saw how Open Arms engaged the community and addressed an unmet need by preparing and delivering meals to people who were sick and might otherwise go hungry. In the process of meeting this basic human need, I also witnessed how Open Arms truly was changing the world.


Sometimes we can change the world and sometimes the world changes around us. Lately, the world has been changing around us. Open Arms does not operate in a separate reality. What happens in society and in the economy affects us all. As a stakeholder in Open Arms – be it as a client, volunteer, or donor – it’s important that you know what is happening at Open Arms during these challenging times.


Open Arms remains committed to preparing and delivering meals to people living with diseases including HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, MS, and ALS. In fact, we anticipate serving another record-breaking number of meals in 2009. To make certain we can deliver on this commitment in the midst of an uncertain economy, the board of directors and staff have made some changes that we want you to know about.

 We have cut our 2009 operating budget by $190,000 – nearly 12% of our budget – with the majority of these cuts related to staffing. Two staff members recently left Open Arms and their positions will not be replaced. Some staff members have taken a cut in salary and both salary and hiring freezes have been implemented. Benefits, such as a retirement match and dental insurance, have been suspended. In addition, we have made administrative cuts on everything from office supplies and postage to utilities.


We were diligent in our efforts to spare clients from dramatic changes, but we did need to make minor modifications to the program. To save over $30,000 we eliminated orange juice and yogurt, though we are looking at cost-effective ways to replace the vitamins that were lost with these reductions. Other than that, our home-delivered clients should notice no difference in the meals they receive from Open Arms.


There are things at Open Arms you can still count on during this period of uncertainty. Every day volunteers and staff cook, package, and deliver meals; and most days we get at least one new request for service. We continue, as best we can, to meet these client needs and to provide opportunities for volunteers to help us achieve our mission. And one other thing hasn’t changed: we continue to move ahead with our capital campaign to construct a new building and expand future programming to ensure that no one in the Twin Cities who is living with a chronic and progressive disease will have to go hungry.


Perhaps, most importantly, what hasn’t changed at Open Arms is our overwhelming sense of optimism that we continue to balance with a hands-on pragmatism to meet a most basic human need. Since our founding in 1986, we have all been in this work together. We are grateful to still be in this with all of you.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Omnibus Appropriations Bill Signed

President Obama today signed the omnibus appropriations bill. Included in that measure was a $285,000 earmark for the construction of Open Arms' new building and the expansion of programming to serve additional people living with chronic and progressive diseases. Open Arms is grateful to former Senator Norm Coleman for introducing the earmark, and we are especially grateful to the people of the United States of America for supporting our efforts to make sure that no one who is confronting a potentially life-threatening illness, has to go hungry in the Twin Cities.

More information is available on Open Arms' website: and I blog about earmarks on the Minneapolis Star Tribune community blogger website at

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Open Arms and Earmarks

Open Arms has been working with members of Minnesota's U.S. Congressional delegation on securing federal funding for our capital campaign to construct a new building and to expand services to additional people living with chronic and progressive diseases in the Twin Cities. Last year, Senator Norm Coleman included an appropriations request for $285,000 to assist with our building project. This earmark is part of the appropriations bill that the Senate is currently discussing and which President Obama will need to sign soon. This earmark is not a "bridge to nowhere." It's about putting food in the bellies of people who are sick and might otherwise go hungry.
More information is available on Open Arms' website: and I blog about earmarks on the Minneapolis Star Tribune community blogger website at