We at Loaves and Fishes recently served our 1 millionth meal of the year. An incredible milestone, certainly, but as we neared ever closer to it, the question was raised time and again: Is it a good thing or a bad thing to serve so many meals in just one year?

Well, one thing is certain — it is a reflection of our community, of still-unmet need in our neighborhoods and in our state.

We served a record-breaking number of meals in 2018 because we decided to grow innovatively and meet hunger wherever it lives. Honestly, it wasn’t difficult to find. Today, our meals are on the streets, in shelters, at dining sites — feeding young and old alike. Our doors are open, our programs are growing, and we are providing comfort to Minnesotans facing obstacles to self-sufficiency — like unemployment, underemployment, estrangement, abuse, addiction, homelessness, disability, loneliness, aging. The refuge we offer is a delicious, healthy meal.

A million of them, as it turns out.

Cathy Maes, Minneapolis

The writer is executive director of Loaves and Fishes Minnesota.

CHRISTMAS

A Vietnam memory: A mailed evergreen — sight, scent of home

With our country so divided, I would like to relate a fond war memory. It was 1967, and I was working as a civilian, volunteer nurse for our Department of State (USAID) in Da Nang, Vietnam. I was assigned to a primitive, overcrowded, understaffed and undersupplied hospital caring for wounded Vietnamese civilians, mainly women, children and old men. We also occasionally cared for enemy soldiers; if you were bleeding, you were a patient.

We survived by rationing everything from IV fluids and penicillin to oxygen, and by begging from American military hospitals in the region. The atmosphere at our hospital was grim. It was raining every day, making the stench from soiled dressings, dirty plaster casts, old blood, human waste and death almost unbearable. Christmas was coming, and our small staff of mainly American women was feeling overwhelmed by the large number of incoming casualties.

On a break from the operating room, I found a small crate addressed to me. Mystified, I took it into our cramped lounge and began prying it open. Soon, a heavenly scent filled the air. It was a tiny decorated evergreen tree from our farm in Minnesota, where each year we cut our Christmas tree. Word quickly spread, and staff poured into the small room to see and smell the magic of Christmas and home.

In addition to my sister’s card, the crate contained a letter:

“This little tree arrived at our facility in a badly damaged cardboard box. We figured it must be pretty important to someone so far away from home, so our employees built the crate and repackaged it. Merry Christmas, the San Francisco Fleet Post Office.”

Patricia L. Walsh, Erie, Colo.

THE WORKPLACE

The perfect gift for people with disabilities? A job.

This holiday season, people are looking for the perfect gifts for loved ones. For millions of qualified, talented and dedicated Americans with disabilities, what they want is a job.

Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life. People with disabilities deserve an equal opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.

Studies show that 70 percent of working-age people with disabilities would like to work, and most young people with disabilities can succeed at a job when given the right opportunities and supports.

There are many kinds of disabilities. Some, like blindness, deafness and physical disabilities, are readily observable; others, such as autism, learning disabilities and mental health conditions, are less so.

Altogether, according to the annual Disability Statistics Compendium, there are 302,274 working-age people with disabilities living in Minnesota. Currently, 48 percent of them have jobs. That puts Minnesota among the best states when it comes to employing people with disabilities.

Even so, there are many more Minnesotans with disabilities who are eager and ready to work. This holiday season, let’s work together to ensure that more of them have the chance to achieve the dignity, income, friends and independence that comes from work.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, Rockville, Md.

The writer is the president of RespectAbility, a national nonprofit fighting stigma and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities.

CORPORATE GROWTH

Why it would have been smart for Apple to expand to Minnesota

Apple’s latest expansion (“Apple looks to spread its corporate reach,” Dec. 17) likely ignored Minnesota because we don’t offer high-enough business and tax incentives. But corporate growth is the result of innovation, not tax breaks. Minnesota leads the world in retail and technological innovation (think 3M, Medtronic, Target, Best Buy). Minnesota workers are highly educated and extremely productive. Good luck trying to get these workers to move to New York City. Plus, Best Buy is Apple’s largest reseller. Wouldn’t it make sense to have an office here for that reason alone?

Apple may owe its very existence to Minnesota, as our state provided critical funds when the company was just getting off the ground. In 1978, just two years after it was founded, Apple won a contract with the Minnesota Education Computing Consortium (MECC) to supply 500 computers for Minnesota schools. Through what InfoWorld described as an “enviable showcase” for its products, Apple sold more than 5,000 computers to MECC by 1983, making MECC Apple’s largest reseller. Five thousand at $2,000 each: $10 million. That’s more than $25 million in today’s dollars — critical cash for a capital-intensive start- up like Apple.

Steve Jobs said in an interview with the Computerworld Smithsonian Awards Program: “One of the things that built Apple II’s was schools buying Apple II’s.”

Food for thought, Apple.

Bob Andersen, Edina

POPULATION GROWTH

It comes with a dark side, you know

So Minnesota grew by 43,000 in one year and all we can talk about is that it wasn’t enough growth? (“Population gain buoys Minn.,” Dec. 20.) We could lose a House seat, after all!

The numbers don’t surprise me, but they do alarm me. Minnesota is now officially over the 5.6 million mark, a number that has more than doubled in my lifetime. We added more than a suburb to our limited state last year, and with that, we added more traffic, threatened our already decreasing fresh water supply and lost more open space. It’s already nearly impossible to drive up north on a Friday afternoon, and our aquifers are already being overpumped over four times the rate of recharge.

Our two senators now have to represent that many more people, and we have to find that many more jobs and build more schools. Minnesota is overpopulated. This fact undermines our ability to solve our most-pressing problems. Our state’s future hangs in the balance of learning to admit that our addiction to growth is hurting everything we love about our state.

Karen I. Shragg, Bloomington