Open Arms opens its doors


Open Arms of Minnesota, the largest provider of meals for the chronically ill in the Twin Cities, celebrated two milestones in June -the delivery of its two millionth meal and the dedication of its new $8.1-million community kitchen at 2500 Bloomington Ave. S.

Some would say Open Arms’ entire history epitomizes “building pride on the Southside” magnificently, while demonstrating an ability to fulfill big dreams.

Started in 1986 in a small apartment kitchen in Phillips by Bill Rowe, Open Arms took 19 years to deliver its first million weekly meals to peopl living with HIV/AIDS. But it took only five years to deliver the second million as its clientele grew to about 1,200 by including those with breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, ALS and other chronic and progressive diseases.

“When we started our capital campaign in 2007,” said Kevin Winge, Open Arms executive director, “our dream expanded to embrace a mission where eventually no one who is ill in the Twin Cities will have to go hungry. Now we have a facility that will allow us to move closer to that goal.”

The fundraising drive was completed in the face of the longest recession in eight decades. Support came from far and wide: major corporations (Cargill, Ameriprise, Target, Best Buy, Piper Jaffray and others), the Bush Foundation $400,000), the Kresge Foundation ($800,000), a federal shovel-ready grant of $250,000, community events, faith communities and individuals – some 1,800 in all.

Site clean-up grants came from the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Metropolitan Council and state economic development department.

The land, formerly occupied by the Commodore Bar before a fire, was donated by John Frey and Jane Letourneau, campaign co-chairs, on a tip from Mayor R. T. Rybak. Construction began in June 2009 and was completed in March 2010.
Kitchen Is Focus

The centerpiece of the 21,000-square-foot building is a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen occupying one-third of the space. It sits within sight, sound and smell of the administrative staff and the 40 daily volunteers. Overseeing orders (many clients are on special diets) are a staff dietician and four cooks.

Winner of an architectural award for office redevelopment by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal, the design features an outdoor seating area, rain gardens, a balcony, a locker and shower area for workers, bicycle parking, a secured parking lot, a public drinking fountain and an emergency power generator.
“Although Open Arms is food and cooking centered, the building is designed to function as great office space if the mission changed,” noted Paula Merrigan, a principal of DJR Architecture, Inc.

Another intriguing fact: Open Arms has balanced its budget for 23 consecutive years. It is now at $2 million a year, with $1.7 million of that coming from private donors. An estimated 31,400 volunteer hours donated by 1,400 volunteers equals that of 17 full-time workers.

But Open Arms’ Winge isn’t finished improving lives through cooperative ventures. This spring Open Arms launched a partnership with the Prairie Oaks Institute to grow its own organic vegetables on two acres of farmland in Belle Plaine, Minn.

And on the international front, Winge is checking up on the progress of a daily hot lunch program and food parcel donations for people living with HIV/AIDS in Guguleta, a township near Cape Town, South Africa.