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Introducing the Meals on Wheels Kitchen of Opportunities

Chef Kris Almsted carved this watermelon with the Meals on Wheels logo for the Kitchen of Opportunities Grand Opening

As a retired registered nurse, Judy knows the value of good nutrition when it comes to staying healthy. And as someone who gets Meals on Wheels, she also appreciates healthy food that also tastes good.

Judy, who is 72 and lives in Brooklyn Park, signed up for Meals on Wheels about a year ago when arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome made it difficult for her to cook nutritious meals for herself. “I was just having a harder and harder time getting around,” she said.

Judy also noticed that she wasn’t able to get out of the house as much as she used to and thought it might be nice to have someone to visit with during her lunch hour. “The people that deliver the meals are just wonderful,” she says. “It feels like the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.”

What Judy didn’t know when she signed up to receive meals was that she would be among the first to try the new food prepared by the Meals on Wheels Kitchen of Opportunities, the first kitchen dedicated to serving Meals on Wheels recipients throughout the Twin Cities. Her meals are delivered by Community Emergency Assistant Program (CEAP), which began serving meals produced by the Meals on Wheels Kitchen of Opportunities in March.

“The clients are really enjoying the changes,” said CEAP President Clare Brumback. “They love that there’s an extra spice or an extra ingredient that makes the food that much better.”

“It’s been great,” says Judy. “I really like the new food. The turkey meatloaf is really good and the fish is really good.”

The goals of the Kitchen of Opportunities

Up to this point, Twin Cities Meals on Wheels programs have purchased their food from professional caterers with expertise in producing meals for seniors. While that model has served Metro Meals on Wheels and its member programs well, launching the Kitchen of Opportunities presented opportunities to increase both food quality and make meals more accessible to those who need them most.

“Bringing meal production in-house as opposed to purchasing them from a caterer not only takes profit out of the equation in terms of meal costs, but allows us greater control over providing outstanding meals to our recipients,” says Metro Meals on Wheels Executive Director Patrick Rowan. “It really allows us to offer the best service and best quality of meals in the community.”

The expected benefits to Twin Cities Meals on Wheels recipients:

Increasing access for those in need. As more local programs begin using the Kitchen of Opportunities for meals, we expect it to save up to $200,000 in annual food costs across the local Meals on Wheels. The savings produced will help local programs serve more people who don’t qualify for government-subsidized meals, yet are in need of nutritious meals to help them live independently.

Consistent, quality meals. Open Arms of Minnesota, who we’ve contracted with to oversee meal production, has a well-earned reputation for producing tasty and nutritious meals for people with life-threatening illnesses. With a focus on fresh ingredients and from-scratch recipes whenever possible, Meals on Wheels recipients can look forward to nourishing meals that taste good.

Flexibility in meeting the needs of the community. Operating our own kitchen allows us to be more responsive to client preferences as we work together to serve a Twin Cities senior population that is projected to double by 2040, while also rapidly becoming more diverse. Bringing meal production under one roof will help will provide the food tomorrow’s seniors want in a cost-effective way.

“We know we’re going to get the quality of food we want and the cost is going to be as good as it can possibly be,” says Community Emergency Services Operations Director Mike Krachmer, whose program serves Minneapolis.

A focus on fresh and healthy

“We really try to deliver on the promise that food is medicine,” Alan Schelin, director of kitchen operations at the Kitchen of Opportunities.

“We are adding in the freshest ingredients we can,” says Kris Almsted,  “I just think it’s a great thing that people who aren’t normally getting a nutritious meal or eating well at all are getting a really awesome meal.”

Thank you to Kitchen of Opportunities founding partners

In addition to Open Arms of Minnesota managing meal production for the Kitchen of Opportunities, the kitchen property is owned by Urban Ventures, who is leasing the space to Metro Meals on Wheels at a considerable discount. Jan-Pro commercial cleaners provided cleaning service prior to the launch free of charge. The opening of the Kitchen of Opportunities was made possible with funding from the Walmart Foundation, General Mills Foundation, Meals on Wheels America, Ameriprise Foundation and the Richard M. Shulze Family Foundation.