Service spotlight: open hand

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At 3:30 p.m. the Westminster volunteers arrive, don aprons and hairnets, and go to work on the assembly line. So begins a day at Open Hand, an organization Westminster has been involved with for 12 years.

Open Hand, previously known as Project Open Hand, is an Atlanta-based nonprofit community service operation that was started in the 1980s in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis. It originated as a group of friends who set out to provide nutritious meals to HIV/AIDS patients who could not leave their houses. Though the AIDS crisis has subsided slightly, the group has grown exponentially.

Open Hand’s mission has evolved to adapt to the community during the past 30 years. Today, their goal is to provide home-bound seniors and individuals who have nutrition-sensitive chronic illnesses–such as diabetes–with comprehensive meals that meet their nutritional needs. Open Hand employs nutritionists to plan balanced meals for the individuals the organization serves and employs volunteers to make and pack these meals. Currently, Open Hand makes and delivers 4,500 meals each day for people in need.

“Our Prepared Meals Program,” states its Web site, www.projectopenhand.org, “provides one, two, or three freshly cooked meals, combined with snacks or supplements, to meet the daily nutritional needs of low-income men, women, and children who are dealing with a critical, chronic, or terminal disease, [including] home-bound seniors.”

Westminster’s involvement with Open Hand began 12 years ago and is unlikely to wane. After learning that Open Hand needed volunteers, Community Service Coordinator Stan Moor took several students to the organization as a sort of test drive. Ever since, Westminster has been connected with the organization. Currently a trip to Open Hand takes place on the third Wednesday of every month, and sign up sheets can be found in the community service room on the bottom floor of Pressly.

“This might be something that people haven’t heard quite as much about,” said Moor, “and we would love to get them involved.”

Students enjoy volunteering at Open Hand because of its relaxing effect and contribution to the community.

“One of the things that I enjoy most is the feeling of community when you’re standing in that assembly line,” said sophomore Tom Desoutter. “You’ve got somebody to your left and somebody to your right, and while you’re packing food you’re just talking and knowing that you have something in common. It really gives you a sense of knowing why you’re there.”

An average day at Open Hand for Westminster volunteers starts at around 3:30 p.m. Volunteers are assigned to work either on the assembly line or in the warehouse. Those working on the line prepare fresh meals to be delivered to home-bound or ill people. Volunteers working in the warehouse pack grocery bags with a week’s worth of provisions, which Open Hand provides in addition to meals. Tasks are straightforward and simple.

“Open Hand might be [a service opportunity] that students don’t hear about quite as much,” said Moor, “ and that’s why I think it’s cool that we put a spotlight on [it] and say ‘look, here’s this really neat place [where] we go; it’s a lot of fun, and [we’re] doing a great service for the community.’”

Moor, along with Westminster students taking part in Open Hand, strongly encourages other people to participate in the program. The next trip is Feb. 15 and the sign-up sheet is posted in Moor’s office.

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