Open Arms provides more than 1,800 meals to those battling illness this Thanksgiving

Callan Gray
Updated: November 24, 2020 10:27 PM
Created: November 23, 2020 10:10 PM

Hands were hard at work at Open Arms of Minnesota leading up to Thanksgiving. Volunteers prepared more than 1,800 meals to deliver to those dealing with illness. 

“Many of them haven't left their house since March, said CEO Leah Hébert Welles. “For someone to come to their homes and say hello is absolutely critical.”

Throughout the year, the non-profit serves those who are undergoing chemotherapy, battling HIV or AIDS, have MS or are otherwise immunocompromised. They’re also helping those who test positive for COVID-19. 

“Open Arms is really trying to open our arms as wide as we can to help people who need to quarantine in their home, even if it's just for a little while,” said Hébert Welles. 

This holiday took 2,500 pounds of turkey, 120 gallons of cranberries, thousands of dinner rolls and more to meet the need. The meals were packed up and loaded into vehicles for delivery across the Twin Cities. 

“We feel really strongly that our clients get a message of hope, a message of caring,” said Hébert Welles. “We're bringing them a Thanksgiving dinner that's been made in our kitchen, making sure that we make contact with them and check-in and see how they're doing and wish them a Happy Thanksgiving.” 

Each person is also receiving a week’s worth of meals, as usual. Open Arms chefs cater to each person’s specific medical conditions. 

The kitchen is open seven days a week with five days of deliveries. 

“It’s given me self-esteem, it's made me feel like a human being again,” said Suzy Schomburg, who lives in Minneapolis. 

She has Crohn’s disease, which she told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has been debilitating. Schomburg is 75 years old and also has problems with her hands that prevent her from cooking.

“It was very scary for me not to know where I was going to get any food and how I was going to last that way so it has been powerful for me,” she said of the Open Arms’ deliveries. 

During the pandemic, the non-profit has seen a 35 to 40 percent increase in demand for its meals. 

“So, of course, we need as much support as we can get,” said Hébert Welles. She told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that every $6.40 donated supports a meal for a client. 

On Give to the Max Day, some of the most well-known chefs in the Twin Cities shared Thanksgiving tips and stories as a way to raise money. Chefs Ann Kim, Gavin Kaysen, Jamie Malone, Justin Sutherland, and Anne Andrus all joined Stephanie March from Mpls-St.Paul Magazine for the live YouTube event.

“What they are doing is obviously beyond generous and really forward thinking,” said Chef Malone, owner of Grand Café. 

Schomburg has been receiving the meals for several months now and is looking forward to her Thanksgiving dinner.

“It's just been a highlight for me,” she said. “I think it's important that we all remember that we're here to feel blessed with what we are living with in this pandemic.”

She is one of about 1,500 clients of Open Arms is serving this holiday season. 

“We know there's lots of sick people out there that need food, we know that a lot of people need to stay home right now and quarantine so if we can be part of the solution right now, that is a blessing,” said Hébert Welles. 

The organization has more than 6,000 volunteers. Marjie Smith has been helping Open Arms for 19 years. 

“I started doing it for someone I knew who died of AIDS in the 90’s, it was a coworker who passed away,” she said. “I started doing it in his honor. This place just grabs ahold of your heart.”

Smith has helped with everything from food deliveries and cooking to reception. She told us she’s seen first-hand the impact it’s had on those they serve.

“[They’re] grateful, [they say] thank you, because it doesn’t cost them anything and if they’re ill it’s hard to go cook, it’s hard to shop, especially now,” she said. “To some extent we’re a wellness check … we might be the only people they see during this time and then we can say, yes they look good or this person is struggling.”

Smith encourages others to get involved. 

“You will be appreciated and it’s fun, love the people here,” she said.

To volunteer with Open Arms, click here

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