For people living with compromised immune systems, the pandemic created a host of new fears and challenges most of us don’t face. Rather than simply social distancing and limiting excursions, they needed to completely confine themselves at home, sometimes alone. But Open Arms of Minnesota, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, began working overtime to ensure these citizens had access to free, healthy food and meaningful interactions with others.

People living with cancer, HIV/AIDS, transplants, and myriad other conditions and diseases often have strict, specific diets, which can be expensive and nearly impossible to make and maintain—even when the world isn’t in a pandemic. The Open Arms staff and volunteers cook, prep, package, and deliver seven full days of free, healthy, diet-specific (and culturally specific) meals to 1,300 immunocompromised Twin Citians each week. As part of the delivery, team members take the time to chat and check in with individuals. This summer, they will also begin shipping meals to immunocompromised people around the state.

In March, the nonprofit’s role became even more crucial to clients’ mental and physical well-being, as COVID-19 restrictions strongly recommended immunocompromised people stay home 24/7—and then again after grocery stores were demolished from looting after George Floyd’s death. 

“We haven’t turned anyone away, but we have seen a 25 percent increase in requests for meals,” Open Arms executive director Leah Hébert Welles said. She anticipates a 35 to 40 percent increase in need by the end of summer.

As the client roster has grown, so has the need for funding. Open Arms counts on its spring fundraiser, Moveable Feast, to raise $500,000 annually—and the event was cancelled for 2020. “It was seriously a moment of panic for us,” Hébert Welles says. “But we talked to supporters and did some virtual events. We’re trying to replace both revenue and connections while staying in people’s minds and hearts.”

The nonprofit’s first virtual party, in late April, featured a Facebook Live and Zoom cooking class with Union Hmong Kitchen chef Yia Vang and Mpls.St.Paul food and dining editor Stephanie March. In May, Open Arms encouraged supporters to create their own Moveable Feast by dressing up (no sweats!) and ordering takeout from local restaurants who normally participate in the event. Hébert Welles hopes to host more online events through the summer.

The camaraderie and fundraising power of virtual events doesn’t quite match that of in-person galas and parties, as many nonprofits are finding in the wake of COVID-19. But—we’ll say this time and time again, because it’s true and valuable—every dollar, and every supporter, counts. Especially when we’re craving connections with others more than ever. 

Want to Help?

Open Arms of Minnesota, 612-872-1152, openarmsmn.org

  • The nonprofit provides free, healthy meals to immunocompromised Minnesotans.
  • What they need: Donate face masks or funds.