By Andy Smith
For uninsured and underinsured people living with HIV/AIDS, quality nutrition is a top priority, but one often hard to come by.
In January 2006, BC/EFA’s National Grants Committee with the approval of the Board of Directors decided to award a special round of grants focusing specifically on food service providers, particularly those who had expanded their meal programs to include people with disabilities in addition to AIDS, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and other disabilities that keep them homebound. This service category would allow BC/EFA to make a grant of up to $20,000 to support these expanded services.
“For many of the nation’s leading meal delivery programs for people with AIDS, funding has become more and more difficult,” says Executive Director Tom Viola. “Ironically, expanding their mission helps to widen their funding opportunities, in short insuring that their AIDS clients will continue to receive these essential meals. Of course, there is always some nervousness about a change like this. With this larger grant BC/EFA wants to not only increase its support but in doing so say that this is a smart and strategic way to go for many of the largest meal delivery providers across the country.”
St. Louis’ Food Outreach, Inc. was one of 27 providers nationwide that have expanded their mission and therefore received such an award; their BC/EFA grant increased from $5,000 in 2005 to $20,000 in 2006. Another 64 organizations providing meals for people with AIDS received grants ranging
from $5,000 – $7,500.
Food Outreach’s $20,000 grant couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We’ve lost $400,000 in Ryan White (Federal) funding in the past two years,” says Greg Lukeman, Food Outreach’s Executive Director, who adds that clients are well aware of funding cuts. “Some are even voluntarily leaving the program for a time. They say things like ‘I want you to be here when I really need you!’”
Fortunately, Lukeman adds, “We can still serve everybody with HIV/AIDS that comes through our door.” What does a $20,000 grant mean to Food Outreach? In 2004, the organization provided meals to 1,219 clients, and BC/EFA’s grant will enable Food Outreach to distribute 4,396 meals, based on an average cost of $4.55 each.
Almost two Decades of Growth
Food Outreach began in the late 1980s as an informal program with a handful of concerned people preparing extra food at mealtimes and then delivering it to friends living with HIV/AIDS. As the number of clients grew, the group became “Food Outreach” and began operating out of a series of churches, with offices and storage in one location and the kitchen in another. This distance caused problems when frozen meals had to be transported across town in the summer heat, says Lukeman, one of the original food providers from the late 1980s.
In 1996, Food Outreach added a grocery center—in a completely different location from the frozen meals. “This was a great addition to our services, but, unfortunately, clients had to choose between the two,” Lukeman says.
However, in 1999, a hard-fought capital campaign generated the financial resources Food Outreach needed to consolidate all its services under one roof – a 10,000 square foot facility which houses a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, meeting and volunteer training space, and private rooms for intake interviews and nutritional counseling. “And we were able to collapse everything under one menu: frozen meats, juices, prepared meals, groceries and fresh produce are available to clients under one roof,” Lukeman says.
In 2002, this ASO added a van delivery service, making nutritious meals available to PWAs in rural communities and to seriously ill clients who couldn’t remain in their own homes without Food Outreach’s efforts.
Nutrition is Key to Treatment
Food Outreach makes sure clients are not only fed, but fed well. Balanced nutrition – focusing on the special needs of PWAs, including long-term survivors and clients battling cancer, diabetes and other critical health concerns – is emphasized. “We are able to adapt as clients’ nutritional needs change during different stages of HIV/AIDS infections,” Lukeman points out.
In fact, the full-time staff of Food Outreach not only includes Chef Mike Polcyn, but registered dietician Carrie Weatherholt as well. She works with clients one-on-one to personalize their eating plans for optimum health. In addition, Food Outreach utilizes Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA), an advanced tool used to detect muscle wasting, measure hydration levels and percentage of body fat.
“Good nutrition is especially important for people with HIV and cancer. That is because the illness itself, as well as its treatments, may affect a person’s appetite. Treatments may also alter the body’s ability to tolerate certain foods and to absorb nutrients,” emphasizes Weatherholt. “We use our food to help clients tolerate their treatments and help certain meds work like they are supposed to.”
Services Keep Adding Up
In the past few years, Food Outreach has continued to expand its services, by partnering with two existing ASOs that provide meals to PWAs in Southern Illinois and by initiating a pilot program that includes HIV-negative cancer patients, many of whom face nutritional challenges similar to PWAs.
The cancer program – a collaboration between Food Outreach and the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine – began slowly but is gaining momentum.
“The pilot program only served about 25 patients, but in 2006 we hope to have as many as 300 clients in our cancer program,” Lukeman says.
For more information on St. Louis-based Food Outreach, Inc., visit their website at http://www.foodoutreach.org/home.html