Packing meals for neighbors

More than 20 Owatonna Hospital, part of Allina Health, volunteers packaged 1,400 meals for the Steele County Food Shelf Saturday morning in 20 minutes. The event kicked off the Neighborhood Health Connection grant process as well as promoted healthy eating. (Ashley Stewart/People's Press)

OWATONNA — At 9:20 a.m. Saturday, 25 Owatonna Hospital, part of Allina Health, employees and their families packaged the last meal for the community.

On Saturday, 40 Allina Health locations -- including Owatonna, Faribault and Northfield -- packaged 200,000 meals for neighbors in need in Minnesota and western Wisconsin to promote healthy eating on a budget and kick off the 2013 Neighborhood Health Connection grant application process.

Owatonna volunteers packaged 1,400 meals for the Steele County Food Shelf in 20 minutes, which was more than an hour ahead of schedule.

“We’re done well before second shift,” said Natalie Ginter, community engagement manager for the south region of Allina Health.

Ginter said she was pleased with the turnout.

“This is the best turnout we’ve had for any of our community outreach programs, and this one is our spring spotlight event,” she said.

Suzie Hanson, assistant patient care manager at the Owatonna Hospital, came out to the event with her husband and daughters.

“Just being a part of the community, it’s our mission to give back,” Hanson said.

Hanson said she enjoys participating in Allina Health’s community events because she has the opportunity to work with others in the community and other Owatonna Hospital staff.

Ginter said events like this allow employees to address hunger together.

“It’s a good opportunity for employees to be engaged in the community beyond patient care,” she said.

The meals will be donated to more than 75 community organizations, including food shelves, shelters, schools and religious organizations, throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

The 1,400 meals Owatonna volunteers packaged will be dropped off at the Steele County Food Shelf on Monday.

Each packaged meal includes a bag of brown rice, canned corn, canned black beans, canned diced tomatoes and canned chicken as well as a healthy recipe book and a notecard from Allina Health.

"The meal packs assembled by volunteers will not only fill an increased need for food donations, they also provide healthy meal options, which are sometimes scarce at food shelves,” said Dr. Scott Flaata, internal medicine physician at Allina Medical Clinic in Edina.

And the event may help the community in other ways with Allina Health’s Neighborhood Health Connection grant program, which awards grants to groups or organizations to bring people together to do healthy activities.

“Research shows that social connectedness is an important determinant of health. People are more likely to engage in and maintain healthy behaviors when done with others,” Flaata said. “Whether it’s volunteering at events like this, starting a walking group, or planting a community garden, people can take small, simple steps to a healthier life — just by doing something with their neighbors or community groups.”

Online applications will be accepted until June 14, and recipients will be announced on July 10.

Reach reporter Ashley Stewart at 444-2378 or follow her on Twitter.com @OPPashley

Owatonna People's Press reporter covering Steele County, Blooming Prairie and Medford government as well as health, transportation and community happenings. University of St. Thomas graduate.

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