When the folks from VEAP social service agency headed to Western National Insurance headquarters in Edina last week, they thought they would be presented with a brand-new van to transport poor and elderly clients.
It would be the first van donated to VEAP under a new company program providing a new vehicle to the nonprofit every year.
But after being presented with the keys to the 2012 Dodge Caravan, the nonprofit's leaders were in for another treat.
When the van's door slid open, they found 750 pounds of food shelf donations crunched inside every nook except the driver's seat.
"We were dumbfounded,'' said Patty Schulz, development director at VEAP, the Bloomington-based social service agency.
"We were so excited just to get the van. But the care they took to give it to us was inspirational.''
For example, the food shelf donations stuffed in the van were items always in short supply: laundry soap, toilet paper and personal care items.
The van also came equipped with an extra step, to help clients enter more safely. Plus, the seats fold into the floor, allowing for easy storage of walkers and other client equipment.
"We were trying to tailor it to their specific needs,'' said Steve Norman, spokesman for Western National.
Norman said the company decided to ratchet up its philanthropy to VEAP because of the growing poverty in the communities it serves -- Edina, Bloomington, Richfield and south Minneapolis.
Many of Western National's clients live in those areas, he said. Company employees also frequently volunteer there.
For years, the company had donated "retired'' vans from the fleet used by its employees to investigate insurance claims, he said. But those vehicles typically had more than 100,000 miles and would eventually need repairs.
"Now once a year,'' he said, "we will be giving them a new one.''
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511