Duluth man marks 50 years of feeding folks at home
“I’m guessing 50 years ago, the gas was under a dollar a gallon. It’s something you've got to do, and you do it whether it’s $1 a gallon or $5 a gallon.”
DULUTH — Rain, shine or snowstorm, Hank Noordzy donates his time and his gas to delivering meals to Duluth area folks in need.
And, he’s been doing it awhile.
“I’m guessing 50 years ago, the gas was under a dollar a gallon,” he recalled. “It’s something you've got to do, and you do it whether it’s $1 a gallon or $5 a gallon.”
Noordzy drives about 100-110 miles each week as a volunteer for Ecumen Lakeshore’s home-delivered meals program, which aims to reduce food insecurity and social isolation in the greater Duluth area.
Over the past five decades, with Noordzy at the helm, the program has connected more than 16,599 meals to homebound seniors and provided 152 low-income folks with sustenance and connection in Piedmont Heights, Kenwood, Congdon and more.
After 50 years volunteering, Noordzy is still on for the cause.
“I have no plans on retiring now. As long as my health is good, I’m going to continue doing it," said the 83-year-old Duluthian.
Some of the people Noordzy serves are incapacitated, or unable to cook, and some are wheelchair-bound with limited access.
So, Monday through Friday, he helps bring packed dishes ranging from spaghetti to turkey with dressing and taters, a half pint of milk, dessert, salad, bread and butter.
“Sometimes, people will have enough for supper,” he said of the portions.
“They’re hot, hardy meals. … Some of them absolutely rely on that,” said Cathy Firth, Ecumen’s account specialist and home delivered meals coordinator.
Ecumen prepares up to 60 a day and is serving 66 clients, Firth said.
If it’s not covered by insurance or Medicaid, Ecumen charges $4 a meal, and receives a $2.99 stipend from Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, which is in charge of meal distribution intake.
Asked about Noordzy, Firth said he is a well-respected, much-loved, “wonderful man.”
He’s very involved, having served on Ecumen’s board of directors and occasionally leads Sunday church services onsite. And, he sees a need, he’s driven and he’ll keep going until he can’t.
“We take care of the better part of eastern part of town, but we still have a route that goes out to the zoo. That’s because of Hank,” Firth said.
Noordzy grew up in Montana, and after graduating seminary in the Twin Cities, getting ordained and marrying, he decided to stay in Minnesota.
He moved to Duluth in 1970 and served as pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church for 31 years.
Noordzy had a long history with Ecumen Lakeshore when he saw a need, communicated with churches in West Duluth, and began coordinating efforts to launch the meals program.
They found those in need through the county, hospitals, social workers or public health nurses, Noordzy recalled.
What started as six or seven daily meals turned into 109 meals delivered each day.
Other volunteers have stepped in to drive, but Noordzy remains a constant. After retiring in 2001, he’s consistently on the road, five days a week.
While Ecumen is obligated to halt deliveries when the weather closes schools, that doesn’t stop Noordzy, who picks up fast food and delivers it to folks who would struggle to eat otherwise.
Asked about vehicle of choice for manning Duluth streets all these years:
“They’ve all been Toyotas. I got hooked on them in 1969. I have not driven anything but a Toyota since,” he said.