"NAF has incredible knowledge and will answer all your questions. They are a nonprofit and believe in nonprofits, which makes such a difference."

Leah Hebert, Executive Director, Open Arms

Open Arms, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, is a nonprofit that cooks and delivers free, nutritious meals to people living with life-threatening illnesses in the Twin Cities. It began as a response to the AIDS crisis in the mid-80s when Open Arms’ founder cooked food in his apartment and delivered it to a few men living with AIDS who had become too sick to cook for themselves.

Fast forward three decades later, and today Open Arms has opened its arms to include people living with a range of life-threatening illnesses, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), as well as their caregivers and dependents. What Open Arms learned during its history is that the need for healthy, nutritious food is the same, whatever the medical diagnosis.

“What is different about our food is there are menus that are medically specific,” said Leah Hebert, Executive Director of Open Arms. “For example there are menus especially for people on chemotherapy and menus with heart-healthy options. Today Open Arms provides about 1000 meals a week, or about 600,000 meals per year. These homemade meals are prepared and delivered by volunteers – there are currently 6000 active volunteers.”

Leah had worked with NAF in her previous position. Once she assessed where Open Arms was in terms of its transition from its long-time executive director, the growth in the need for its services, and its movement beyond some previous challenges, she reached out to NAF. “I had had a good experience with NAF before,” Leah said, “because they offer more than financial guidance. NAF is a true partner.

“Phil (Hatlie from NAF) has been great to work with. He has presented to our board, and reassured them it is okay to have a mortgage, and it is okay for a nonprofit to have debt,” Leah said. “He has provided me and my finance director with articles and information that we have shared with the board. He really has been a helpful partner.”

“I knew Leah and Jill (Director of Finance) from their previous organization,” said Phil Hatlie, Senior Loan Officer for NAF, “which gave me great confidence in their future plans for Open Arms.”

The first project Leah worked on with NAF was to refinance Open Arms’ mortgage. Open Arms had finished a capital campaign, and its traditional mortgage was not a good fit for the organization, so Leah reached out to NAF to see what the options were to work together on it. Since then, Leah has added a line of credit through NAF as well.

“Open Arms, like many nonprofits, has huge cash swings,” Leah said. “We try to move revenue around to have cash at all times, but we still need additional cash for those big fluctuations.” Leah has put a lot of effort into developing a social enterprise to provide an earned income stream to the organization. Open Arms offers facility rental and catering as a way to diversity its funding stream and to work with a variety of organizations in the community.

“NAF truly embraces Open Arms’ programs and goals,” Phil said. “They do amazing work in the community. They have an amazing, great mission that we want to support.”

Leah sees NAF as being critical to Open Arms future success. “Coming out of Open Arms’ period of transition, NAF positioned us well. I don’t know what we would have done without NAF,” she said. “I would encourage any nonprofit to reach out to NAF with questions. NAF has incredible knowledge and will answer all your questions. They are a nonprofit and believe in nonprofits, which makes such a difference. “

To learn more about Open Arms, go here