By Andy Smith
Most organizations feeding people with AIDS began informally – with friends preparing and delivering meals to small groups in their communities – then gradually evolved into larger, more structured nonprofits.
However, in the late 1980s, when Boston’s civic leaders saw the devastation AIDS was causing in their community, the American Jewish Congress assembled 70 individuals from varied backgrounds (activists, doctors, restaurant owners, etc.) and spent several months developing Community Servings, which began to feed homebound Bostonians with HIV/AIDS as a full-fledged organization in January1990.
“The founders thought the community wasn’t doing enough and asked ‘How can we address this?”’ says Tim Leahy, Community Servings’ development director. “We started by delivering meals to a handful of people twice a week.” In 2000, deliveries expanded to include enough food for lunch, dinner and a snack.
Today, this godsend to the homebound has more than 800 volunteers, a staff of 27, a full-time dietician, and provides more than 650 meals each day in 15 communities in and around Boston. And, with strong fundraising initiatives and the help of a $20,000 grant from BC/EFA, it’s been able to begin offering special meals for the children of clients and expand its geographic area, as well.
Leahy is especially proud of Community Servings’ work in the struggling town of Brockton, 20 miles south of Boston. “We started serving there this year and it’s already the fourth largest of the 15 communities we serve.”
In 2004, Community Servings’ board launched a pilot program offering meals to people without HIV, but homebound with MS, breast cancer, diabetes, lupus, Lou Gehrig’s disease and other life-threatening illnesses. The initiative started slow, but gradually picked up steam as publicity efforts and word-of-mouth began reaching homebound Bostonians living with these diseases.
“Today, about 22% of our meals are delivered to people without HIV,” Leahy says.
The Fight for Funding
Like so many organizations, Community Servings has felt the impact of shrinking State and Federal Ryan White Program funding. “Combined, these two areas have gone down about 20% from a couple of years ago,” Leahy says, adding, “The news from Washington is scary.”
Fortunately, LiveSavor and Pie in the Sky – two fundraising initiatives launched 14 years ago – continue to bring in over $800,000 each year for Community Servings. LifeSavoris a prestige event that begins with a cocktail party for several hundred donors at a Boston hotel and then spreads out, with 90 different restaurants each seating groups of 10. Each October, more than 150 area restaurants donate pies of all varieties to Pie in the Sky, an enormous Bake Sale that saves a lot of cooks grief each Thanksgiving Season as they prepare for family gatherings. It even features a website:www.pieinthesky.org.
“These events are very successful, but (because they’re older) they don’t grow much anymore,” Leahy says. “So this larger grant from BC/EFA lets us reach out and serve more people.”
Like so many food providers, Community Servings has outgrown its current location (“our facility now is incredibly overcrowded”) and hopes to relocate during the next few years. “We need more kitchen space and a building that’s more ‘volunteer friendly,”’ Leahy explains.