Philanthropy beat: Lutheran Social Service puts 'giddyup' in meal delivery

  • Article by: JEAN HOPFENSPERGER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2012 - 6:32 PM

Call it four-legged philanthropy.

Lutheran Social Service scored an unusual Meals on Wheels volunteer last month: a handsome horse named Taco who gave new meaning to the term "hot to trot."

Taco pulled a buggy loaded with warm meals for the senior citizens of Twin Valley, a small town in northwestern Minnesota where he is now an honorary LSS volunteer.

"Our seniors were so happy to see a little bit of their past come back to life,'' said Al Heiraas, who drove the buggy. "They would come out and pet him, get a picture with him. It was fun.''

More than 2 million Meals on Wheels are delivered each year in Minnesota. It's the first time in more than 30 years that anyone remembers them being delivered by a horse.

"I remember we had meals delivered on tractors in some heavily flooded areas down by Morris,'' said Monica Douglas, longtime director of LSS senior nutrition programs statewide. "And I remember meals delivered by snowmobiles in Lake of the Woods and Baudette.

"We have a variety of delivery methods,'' she joked.

Taco is slower than a snowmobile, but far more personable. The gentle 18-year-old had worked on an Amish farm before Heiraas' niece bought him a few years ago.

Taco made his rounds in Twin Valley at roughly the same speed as a car, said Heiraas. It was the second time Taco hit the road on behalf of LSS: He made a Meals on Wheels run last year, inspired by Heiraas' wife, Donna, who works for the senior nutrition program.

Many of the seniors are in their 80s and 90s, and they grew up with horse-drawn buggies, said Heiraas. But they hadn't seen one in years, much less one at their doorstep.

Put another way, Taco is the equivalent of a 1950s Chevy delivering meals to baby boomers in the decades ahead.

And for the record: Taco is not disappointed that he was unable to deliver Mexican food. He expects to resume his work next summer.

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511

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