Open Arms of Minnesota’s Organic Turkey Drive

Courtsey of Open Arms
Courtesy of Open Arms

Remember in kindergarten close to Thanksgiving, when you would trace your hand and create a construction-paper “turkey” to celebrate the holiday? For many teachers, it’s an easy way to get their students excited about Turkey Day. But at Open Arms of Minnesota, the childhood craft inspired a successful and rewarding project — an organic turkey drive for local residents battling serious medical conditions.

“What’s fun about Open Arms of Minnesota is that we take simple messages and play with them,” says Jennifer Van Wyk, the deputy director of Open Arms of Minnesota. “Those simple turkeys gave us the idea to offer turkey sponsorships for Thanksgiving.”

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Since 1986, Open Arms of Minnesota has delivered nutritious meals to people who are sick and struggling to care for themselves. From an original clientele of five men with HIV / AIDS, the organization has grown exponentially and now serves 540 people each week. Clients undergoing treatment for HIV / AIDS, breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) receive a weekly delivery of healthy, made-from-scratch meals that are made with organic, local ingredients whenever possible. But only in the past few years has the organization sold turkey sponsorships, for which a $30 donation supplies a client and his or her family with a full Thanksgiving meal, complete with an organic turkey from Larry Schultz Organic Farm in Owatonna.

“We had always prepared Thanksgiving meals in the past for clients and guests, but as we expanded our services beyond HIV / AIDS patients, more of our clients had families and wanted to cook for them on Thanksgiving. So we developed a choice — we’ll either deliver a fully prepared meal or all the components to make the meal yourself. You can have that house smelling like a turkey on Thanksgiving morning,” Van Wyk says.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

With a goal of raising enough money to purchase 300 turkeys this year, Open Arms of Minnesota is looking to the community for help in spreading the word. Luckily, it has a base of 1,400 active volunteers who act as advocates for the project. One such volunteer, Laurie Emfield of Orono, is so motivated that she’s already sold more than 70 sponsorships. A regular in the Open Arms kitchen on Franklin Avenue twice a week, Emfield sees the turkey drive as a simple way for people who don’t have time to cook or deliver meals to contribute for the holiday.

“A lot of other people are interested in what we are doing but don’t have the time to volunteer like I do, but when I e-mailed 500 people about the turkeys, many were happy to help,” Emfield says. “It’s an easy thing to do, and they know the money is going where I say it’s going.”

“It’s nothing grandiose, but it works. People think, ‘$30 — I can do that,'” Van Wyk adds.

Emfield also gets local schoolchildren involved by having them decorate the delivery bags for the Thanksgiving meals.

“It’s such a nice little extra for folks who are not feeling well. We may be the only people they see all week if they don’t have a lot of support,” Emfield adds.

The bags aren’t the only crafty item coming from the Open Arms’ building during Thanksgiving season. Those inspirational hand-traced turkeys have a place of of honor on an office wall — each sporting the name of a turkey-drive donor. Emfield hopes to see a fully covered wall by time November 26 arrives.

“Just one family, $30, would be a tremendous help.”

To sponsor a turkey dinner for $30 this year, call Open Arms of Minnesota at 612.872.1152 or e-mail In addition to monetary donations, Open Arms of Minnesota will also need extra volunteers to prepare and deliver meals during the week of Thanksgiving.


  1. Conservation Corps of Minnesota Youth Outdoors Program


    We are a group of seven (five youth two adult leaders) looking for a volunteer opportunity on the 20th of November for our service project. We would love to be involved in any capacity with your organization, but we are restricted to working only on the 20th and for no more than five hours. If you have any information on how we may get involved, please contact the above written e-mail address or call Tanner at 612-655-9100. Thank you!


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