GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — Vikings kicker Blair Walsh led a contingent of teammates and alumni players in joining UnitedHealthcare employees for a volunteer food packing event on Tuesday at Second Harvest Heartland.
Walsh introduced teammates Jeff Locke, Rhett Ellison, Zach Line, Shaun Prater and Pat Devlin to nearly 100 UnitedHealthcare employees and thanked the day's second shift of volunteers from the company for helping resolve hunger issues for people in need.
"We want to thank you guys for coming out here and helping," Walsh said. "It means a lot to us and to the community. I want to thank Second Harvest Heartland and UnitedHealthcare. It's such an important event, packing food for those who are in need, especially during the holiday season when families and kids go without meals. This is important, and what you're doing makes a difference, and I just want to say thank you."
The current players, former Vikings Carl Eller, Dave Osborne, Stu Voigt and Rickey Young and Vikings cheerleaders donned hairnets and food prep gloves and teamed up to measure, weigh and bag dried pasta. The serving hands scooped from gigantic boxes of noodles and poured them into plastic bags that were sealed one pound at a time for distribution to the 1,000 partner agencies and programs served by Second Harvest Heartland, which is the Upper Midwest's largest hunger relief organization.
Heather Olson, Corporate Engagement Manager for Second Harvest Heartland, said the partnership with the Vikings and UnitedHealthcare helps bring awareness to the fact that one in 10 Minnesotans experience hunger.
"We serve nearly have a million hungry men, women, seniors and children throughout our community," Olson said. "The efforts that the Vikings players are helping us with, along with UnitedHealthcare employees are allowing us to pack meals for hungry families. We do a lot of repackaging of large food donations that we get through here, and it allows us to help our partner food shelves and other hunger relief organizations throughout our community."
Second Harvest Heartland does the majority of its repacking in Golden Valley and appreciates help from volunteers for that process (click here to find out how to help or sign up for a shift). The agency does most of its distribution from its Maplewood location and distributed more than 88 million pounds of food last year.
Olson said UnitedHealthcare's support helps Second Harvest Heartland place additional attention on the plight of hungry senior citizens. She said that problem "is a growing issue, but not one that a lot of people talk about. It's one that we do need to talk about because they are a very fragile population and they need our support, so that support means a great deal."
UnitedHealthcare Senior Vice President Patty Sauro said a major goal of the four-year community partnership with the Vikings has been for both organizations to collectively answer, "How can we make a difference together?"
Sauro, who places a significant emphasis on UnitedHealthcare's social responsibility initiatives, said the company is committed to helping resolve hunger issues. Sauro said UnitedHealthcare has appreciated the partnership with Second Harvest Heartland because of CEO Rob Zeaske's innovative efforts and looks forward to every opportunity for teamwork between the three organizations.
"We have employees that are absolutely passionate, so when we have our events with the Vikings, within an hour, all of the slots fill up," Sauro said. "That has been the experience of the past four years, where people are like, 'We want to participate, we want to volunteer, we want to work with Second Harvest and the Vikings,' so it's been phenomenal, a lot of energy."
Vikings fans also recently helped the effort during the food collection event Sunday outside TCF Bank Stadium before Minnesota defeated the New York Jets. Fans brought non-perishable foods that UnitedHealthcare employees volunteered to collect on behalf of Second Harvest Heartland.
Walsh, who worked together Tuesday with Locke and cheerleader Mollie to weigh, bag and seal the pounds of pasta, said it was great to see teamwork on behalf of the Vikings and UnitedHealthcare for Second Harvest Heartland.
"It's awesome to get those organizations out here," Walsh said. "You've got your old alumni Vikings out here, and they love being around each other and helping the community. It's good to recognize those guys as well because they were here for so long and doing good stuff in the community, and then to partner with UnitedHealthcare and Second Harvest Heartland, who play a big role in putting food on the table for people in need.
"During the holiday season, it's tough for families sometimes to provide a good, healthy, nourishing meal, and the fact that we can come out here and help a couple families is great," Walsh continued. "I know Second Harvest Heartland and UnitedHealthcare reach a lot of families but the fact we can just come here and help a little means the world."