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Delivering for Charlie’s Charity of Record, Open Arms

Christine Wilson, one of the volunteer engagement coordinators, had everything packed and ready to be delivered.

I am not the typical driver for a meal-delivery system, but I do have two of the primary skill sets: I have a reliable car and a good attitude. The downside is that I'm directionally challenged. But all that changes with technology: I have an iPhone. Even I could make seven stops in the allotted three-hour window.

No credit to me, however. Open Arms has delivering healthy meals down to a science. Volunteer drivers converge on the kitchen facility on Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis around 10:45 a.m., where the staff has the meals packed and the route printed to ideally make a loop that starts and finishes close to the facility.

Each oversize cooler bag holds two delivery stops. Clients get a week's worth of frozen prepared meals that meet their dietary needs, a grocery bag of produce and bakery items, and a gallon of milk. Meals are color-coded and everything is labeled. Each bag has two frozen ice packs, and drivers are  instructed to keep the bags zipped. If no one is home, the food is returned to Open Arms. The clients' info is on the labels, therefore, the packages can’t be left with a neighbor, and for food-safety reasons, they can’t be left outside the door. 

Open Arms, the official charity of the Charlie Awards, cooks and delivers meals to people with life-threatening illnesses. Founded in 1986, the nonprofit relies on volunteers. This year 6,000 volunteers will cook and deliver more than 600,000 meals to people living with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and ALS, as well as to their caregivers and dependents.

Christine Wilson, a volunteer-engagement coordinator, went over the list with me and explained how to handle any of the situations that might arise. Drivers are asked to knock a minimum of three times and to be patient since clients require time to get to the door. Phone numbers are provided as well. Occasionally clients ask you to put the groceries in the refrigerator, she said, but only enter the apartment if you’re comfortable. One thing I’m sure GrubHub delivery drivers aren't warned about is how to handle chatty customers—since you may be the only visitor they've see that day. I only had that happen once and it was the highlight of my shift.

Although I was provided with printed copies of the directions, at the end of each stop I plugged the next address into my iPhone. Directions on how to get into the building are printed under each address, but I didn’t realize how invaluable this information was until my first stop. The  building was a split-level with three floors, each with an unmarked door—and the apartment number I was looking for was higher than 3. My confusion meant the client had to walk down the long hallway to greet me, and after watching him painfully walk back with me I vowed to read the directions more carefully.

One stop required carrying the heavy bag to the door and then up two flights of stairs. I was just about to unpack the bag and make two trips when a neighbor came to my rescue. He put the bag down inside the door and I thanked him several times as I turned to leave. “Don’t you need to take the bag,” he called out. I laughed and told him he was better at my job than I was. 

Once you’re the recipient of kindness you’re more attuned to finding it in other places. As I sat at a stoplight, a man in an old electric wheelchair stalled in front of me. He panicked, frantically turning the key over and over. I panicked, not sure what to do, but a man rushed over and began pushing the wheelchair across the street—no easy feat. If I want to continue doing good deeds, I decided, I better start going to the gym.  

Delivering during the day meant no problem finding parking spots outside the building's door, but it also meant having to be cognizant of road construction sites with workers and machines blocking the very turn your app expects you to take. I hate it when I disappoint the woman on my app by making it continually reroute.

At each stop I really enjoyed the brief encounters with the clients. I don’t know why I expected it to be melancholy, but it was just … normal: a delivery person and a recipient. At one stop a woman admired my scarf, so I gave it to her and she in turn gave me a jar of homemade pickles. 

At 2 p.m. on the dot, I dropped off my empty bags, debriefed and returned the list to be shredded. I would never consider driving for UberEats or Domino’s, but I would drive for Open Arms again, now that I know the ropes. 

Next up: Foodservice News staff takes an Open Arms kitchen shift in October

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