A van pulled up to Lois Seltzer's home in St. Paul last Friday around noon, and the driver delivered a little brown bag that Seltzer has come to treasure.
Inside was a tidy container holding a salmon patty, rice, carrots, a carton of milk and two pieces of braided challah bread — all prepared by kosher standards. It reminded her of a typical meal her mother would put on the kitchen table back when she was a child.
"This is something I look forward to," said Seltzer, referring to the three meals delivered each week. "Kosher food is very good, particularly the meat."
More than 1.2 million Meals on Wheels were delivered to more than 7,100 residents across the Twin Cities last year. The program, launched nearly four decades ago, has evolved with the times, offering cultural and dietary specialties including vegetarian, Hmong and Muslim halal meals.
Some of those cultural specialty meals couldn't be sustained because of the added costs, said Patrick Rowan, executive director of Metro Meals on Wheels, which represents 32 nonprofits offering the service. But the kosher program has survived for more than a decade, bringing meals to older Jewish residents with disabilities who want to stay true to their faith.
"We're delighted to fill a niche in our community that no one else is doing," said Ted Flaum, CEO of Jewish Family Service of St. Paul, which serves the east metro area.
In the west metro, observant Jews can get home-delivered kosher meals through Jewish Family and Children's Service of Minneapolis. The two programs "are probably the only ones in the state," Flaum said.
Meals prepared by kosher standards also meet the requirements of halal, or food permitted under Islamic law. A handful of Muslims already order the meals, said Flaum, who encourages more.
There are currently no nonprofits delivering specifically halal meals in the metro area; however, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota offers halal meals at its dining program site in Willmar, said Roxanne Jenkins, the nonprofit's associate vice president of services for older adults.
Kosher food is prepared according to Jewish dietary laws primarily found in the Torah. Animals that chew their cud and have split hoofs, such as cows and goats, are deemed kosher while pigs are not.
Animals must be slaughtered in a specific, painless manner. Meat and milk are never combined. And separate utensils must be used for each.
Seltzer has been opening the brown paper bags delivered to her door for two years, since her husband died. The meals arrive frozen, which gives her the flexibility of eating them whenever she wants. Most days, she saves them for dinner.
"I like the variety," she said.
The meals are prepared at Sholom Home, a senior housing nonprofit with campuses in both the St. Paul and Minneapolis areas, one of the partners in the project. The Jewish Community Center in St. Paul delivers them.
Rowan attributed the sustaining power of the kosher program to "the commitment of Jewish community to support its elders."
The St. Paul and Minneapolis kosher meals programs delivered roughly 20,000 meals in 2017. A survey by Jewish Family and Children's Services showed they were the main meal of the day for 86 percent of the clients. Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union are among the largest number of clients, organizers said.
But the program does more than drop off challah bread on Fridays. The person delivering the meals also checks on often-housebound clients, organizers said. The stuffed cabbage or Friday chicken dinner also feeds the soul.
"Judaism is as much a faith as culture,'' said Flaum. "For many people, having that kosher meal is a way to connect with one's history and identity."