Denise Harris is truly thankful this year, as are her volunteers and staff. More importantly, her North Minneapolis Meals on Wheels (NMMOW) clients are thankful because the longtime organization, which started in 1973, is still delivering hot meals to their doors each day.
A year ago this time, Harris, the NMMOW executive director wasn’t sure that her organization could keep on rolling (“Hot meals ease hunger and loneliness,” MSR, November 22, 2007).
“This year we are on target to serve 40,000 meals,” Harris happily reported last week. NMMOW served about 33,000 meals last year, “and we don’t see anything slowing down in 2009,” she added.
“You meet a lot of nice people on the route,” said 90-year-old Claire Ryden, a longtime volunteer. He and Linnea Quan, who recently joined NMMOW, teamed up last week to deliver meals on the North Side.
“I really enjoy helping people and using my time that I have to lift up other people,” said Quan.
“There are so many who are sick, and the elderly who just need a little hello that brightens their day,” said Emily Skinner. “I want to give back to the community, because the community gave to me.”
Bill and June MacWhirter are a husband-and-wife team: “I drive and she delivers the meals,” said Bill.
“[The clients] seem glad to see me, and I am glad to see them,” June added.
This is why Harris and others fought so hard to keep NMMOW alive. “We looked at every possible way this year to cut costs,” explained Harris.
Everyone took “personal sacrifices — everyone’s salary was frozen, [and] in my case, actually reduced [from full time to half time]. I was here, but I wasn’t getting paid. I volunteered the necessary time to run the organization,” she admitted.
The only thing NMMOW didn’t cut back on was serving meals, Harris proudly pointed out.
NMMOW’s partners, which include St. Olaf Lutheran Church (where NMMOW offices are housed) and Pillsbury United Communities, “all pitched in to support us in our fundraising efforts [and] with volunteers,” continued Harris, adding that the community also helped. “We had a month of prayers [this past April].”
As a result, NMMOW eventually erased a $17,000-plus deficit in 2007, said Harris. It moved from shaky financial ground to a more solid foundation. “We went from having less than a thousand dollars in 2006 in individual contributions to exceeding the $10,000 mark [this year],” said Harris
The organization’s grants almost tripled as well “from an approximately $3,000 a year in 2006 to probably exceeding $20,000 in grants this year,” she noted. “I believe we will have additional monies at the end of 2008 to assist us in continuing to serve the community in 2009.”
Yet, with the current financial crisis in place, Harris knows that the new year could be a challenging one.
“The real concern for North Minneapolis Meals on Wheels is that the cost of food continues to rise. [It currently costs around $3.50 per meal], and the availability of enough volunteers to support the program so that we don’t have to pay people to deliver the meals or work in the office.”
She knows that the need for NMMOW isn’t going away anytime soon. “It’s not just a meal, but that daily touch-base-and-contact, and making sure [that] folk are okay,” Harris said.
“I’m glad that we are here and providing a wonderful service, but it would be nicer if the need wasn’t there,” added Candy Bakion.
Harold Lewis, who was diagnosed two years ago with lung cancer, recently joined NMMOW as a volunteer. “This is the first job that I have had since my recovery,” he said. “It’s more than a job — people who get these meals need these meals.”
Harris said that NMMOW is awaiting word if they will receive a grant that would help expand their services. “Our goal is 1,000 meals in 2009 for those who don’t qualify for [federal- or county-funded programs],” she explained. “You could be 45 years old or 25 years old and need our meals service, or folks in hospice — we have no funding to support them.
“I think that is going to make a tremendous impact here in North Minneapolis. There are people that are hungry, people that really need this service,” Harris surmised.
Volunteer Desmond Bryan said, “My spiritual strength helps me to enjoy my route and enjoy working here.”
NMMOW always is looking for volunteers. “I think sometimes people think that they have to give a huge commitment of time,” said Harris. “We are asking for just an hour a month… If I had 100 people that gave me an hour a month, I could save thousands of dollars. We need people to work in our office as well as delivering meals.”
Harris believes that the good they are doing will bear fruit: “If we continue to tell [our] story, continue to serve meals to our community [and] our neighbors here on the North Side with respect and caring, my outlook for 2009 is optimistic.”
For more information on North Minneapolis Meals on Wheels, call 612-522-7335 or visit www.nmmow.org.
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