Open Door: Work is the Best Social Program

In late January 2012, in a below zero day with strong northwest winds, four people from Valley City traveled to Ray, North Dakota to obtain Thunderbird Ranch Gourmet Foods for the Open Door Center. The purpose of the trip was to secure real work for people with disabilities through the production of the products of Thunderbird Gourmet Foods. Because the Open Door Center believes that work is the best social program.

The unemployment rate among people with disabilities is high, and even higher when compared to the rest of the population. even with the current rate of almost 9% unemployment within the United States. In contrast to North Dakota the difference becomes even greater.
Approximately 75 percent of people with disabilities are either underemployed or unemployed. People with severe disabilities are approximately 90 % under or unemployed including many of the 115 people receiving services through the Open Door Center. Consequently it has become one of the goals of the Center to secure more work for people with disabilities. Thunderbird Ranch Gourmet Foods is one of the avenues to meet this goal.

Thunderbird Ranch Gourmet Foods was started through a vegetable stand along North Dakota Highway 1804 near Ray, North Dakota. Customers drove along country roads and stood in line for the market to open. Of course, the vegetables were delicious and fresh, but it was the dips and soups served as a means to sample that vegetables that became the big attraction. Thunderbird Ranch Gourmet Food, Pride of Dakota Products, now offers over twenty nine items including a variety of dressings and dips, soup, breads and meat rubs. Many of the dips can be used for cheese balls, too. The fast and easy soups cook in about a half an hour. When they are coupled with the melt-in-your-mouth breads and a dip with vegetable, a complete meal is ready in about one-half hour!

There are approximately twenty individuals who work on Thunderbird Gourmet Foods. Some of them work in the certified kitchen while others are busy with labeling, packaging, boxing and readying the product for shipping throughout North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and several other states.

A new kitchen and production area will soon be completed. This will be located in the Geisler Building. This area will provide more space for production as well as an accessible certified kitchen to meet all of the required health standards.

Thunderbird Ranch Gourmet Foods are available by calling 701.845.3631 or toll free at 855.820.0092. You can also visit our web site at These twenty-nine products can also be purchased through the Eagle’s Nest Bookstore in Valley City, North Dakota.

The Center is excited about the new work options for individuals with disabilities through the production of easy to prepare and fun to serve products. However most of all the Center is rewarded by the self-satisfaction and pride on the faces of the employees as they complete their tasks in the preparation of these quality food items. They, like the majority of us, can identify themselves through their work. Now many individuals at Open Door Center proudly state, “I produce Thunderbird Ranch Gourmet Foods, a Pride of Dakota product.

Simonson is executive director of the Open Door Center, a Valley City-based nonprofit that provides a range of services to people with disabilities.