From left: Matthew Pieper, Executive Director Open Hand; Shirley Powell, Open Hand Board Chair; Johanna Ellis Reisinger, Open Hand Campaign Chair; and Katie MacKenzie, Senior Director of Resource Development and Marketing / Photo by Joann Vitelli
The Impact of Open Hand: “Food is Medicine. Food is Love.”
Open Hand, the largest community-based supplier of home-delivered meals and nutritional counseling in the Southeast, will open its new 43,000-square-foot headquarters at 1380 West Marietta Street in northwest Atlanta by next summer. The $19.5 million initiative, “The Healing Power of Food: A Healthy Life Delivered,” accommodates a projected 50 percent increase in need for the organization’s services over the next five years.
The nonprofit organization has cooked and delivered meals to people who cannot cook for themselves for 35 years. In 1988, Michael Edwards-Pruitt enlisted the help of neighbors to cook and deliver nutritious meals to 14 friends dying from AIDS and founded Project Open Hand out of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church kitchen.
Open Hand has a large staff, including approximately 17,000 volunteers, that worked together to provide nearly 1.4 million made-from-scratch, medically tailored meals in 2022. Each meal is approved by a registered dietitian before being directly delivered to clients’ homes.
As one of the largest community-based providers in the country, Open Hand offers its services to everyone, from patients recovering from hospitalization to individuals facing food insecurity and chronic disease. In 2021, Open Hand reported that 94 percent of clients maintained or improved their cholesterol, blood pressure, and/or blood sugar levels.
Open Hand operates by a “food is medicine, food is love” philosophy, which emphasizes the importance not only of healthy eating habits, but also providing the education and other resources to establish those habits. Research shows that healthy eating and perceived self-efficacy go hand in hand. Executive Director Matthew Pieper told Georgia Voice that dignity and choice are foundational to Open Hand’s mission.
“Health equity is a much bigger part of the public health dialogue right now,” Pieper said. “How do we provide equitable health to a very diverse client base? In making the effort and making it a priority to understand people’s cultural beliefs and meeting them where they need to be met to provide them not just with nutrition, but with all kinds of health care services.”
Open Hand meals include few heavily processed or canned foods, but the grocery delivery service includes nonperishables and fresh produce to prepare as many as 14 balanced meals per week.
“Sadly, there is a philosophy in our country that if someone’s receiving a meal that they don’t have to pay for, they should just be grateful for what they get,” Pieper said. “We don’t cater to that philosophy. We believe that everybody should have the ability to choose.”
Open Hand serves the greater metro Atlanta area, where there are sizable food deserts, a byproduct of gentrification and supermarket redlining that limits access to healthy food either by cost or distance. In 2021, Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, sponsored a resolution to determine what policies could improve access to healthy foods for more than two million Georgians, including 500,000 children.
“The map of where food deserts are in Georgia, and particularly in metro-Atlanta, and you overlay where Open Hand provides our services,” Pieper said. It’s almost a complete match.”
Healthy ingredients can be difficult to access, but knowing what to do with them can be even more difficult. Open Hand offers several nutrition programs, including GRITS (Georgians Receiving Insightful Telenutrition Seminars), a telehealth education campaign that brings nutrition education and counseling to older adults in senior centers, places of worship and the home.
The need for a larger headquarters became clear in 2020, Pieper said, when the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the weakness of our country’s “safety net” for supporting individuals living below the poverty level and how food- and nutrition-insecure many households are.
Support Open Hand this holiday season with a Good Measure Meals gift card, as featured in its holiday gift guide. Good Measure Meals is a meal kit delivery service where qualifying residents in and around Atlanta can get high-quality ingredients and a rich selection of recipes for a little as $5 per portion. If you’d like to check your eligibility for Open Hand’s meal services or programming, visit openhandatlanta.org.