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Feeding the Need

Moveable Feast Celebrates 15 Years of Delivering Meals, Groceries, and Kindness to Families Suffering from HIV and AIDS

Christopher Myers
Nothin' Says Lovin'...: Moveable Feast's Danny Bragg (left) has known Agnes Thompson (center), who is HIV+, since she joined the organization's food-delivery program nearly a decade ago.

By Christina Royster-Hemby | Posted 8/18/2004

Ten years ago, Govans resident Agnes Thompson needed help. She was the single mother of five children, the youngest of whom was 9 years old, she was unemployed, and she was HIV+. She didn’t know how she was going to feed her children, much less get enough nutrition into her own body to help her combat the virus. It was then, she says, that help came in the form of a local nonprofit organization whose mission is to deliver food to those afflicted by HIV/AIDS.

“I didn’t know how we were going to make it,” Thompson, now 50, weeps when she recalls that time of her life. “But we did make it. And it’s largely because of Moveable Feast.”

It’s been 15 years since Moveable Feast started delivering its first meals and groceries to families and individuals coping with HIV and AIDS. During its tenure, the group has gone from a small organization that served its meals out of someone’s home kitchen to a fully staffed organization run from its headquarters in Highlandtown. Moveable Feast is one of the few AIDS service organizations whose programs serve not just the people infected with the disease but also their children, caretakers, and families.

“Lots of people think about the people being infected with HIV, but not the ones who are affected,” Thompson says.

As the number of AIDS cases in Baltimore City have grown over the years (“Epidemic Proportions,” Aug. 11), so has Moveable Feast’s operations.

“Sadly, the number of clients served has gone from 12 to more than 800 men, women, and children per year,” says Joseph Berg, communications director for Moveable Feast. In 2003 alone, Moveable Feast served more than 521,000 meals, disbursed more than 37,000 nutritional supplements, and rallied 3,033 volunteers who donated a total of 9,490 service hours.

As of 2003, 50 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases diagnosed in the state of Maryland were in Baltimore City, and 6.5 percent were in Baltimore County. Every year, an average of 1,000 people contract HIV in Baltimore City. This, coupled with the fact that Greater Baltimore has the fourth-highest number of AIDS cases among major metropolitan areas in the United States, according to the state Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, means the need for services like those provided by Moveable Feast will likely continue to increase.

But public funding for AIDS service organizations hasn’t kept up with the need for help. Last spring, the Baltimore region lost 8 percent of the funding it receives from the federal Ryan White and Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS programs, meaning Moveable Feast lost $100,000—5 percent of its annual budget. Staff members constantly worry about whether they will be able to meet the needs of their clients, but administrators of the program still reach out to more people.

“Our goal was to reach 1,000 clients in 2004,” Berg says. “We’re still pushing for that in spite of the budget cuts.”

Moveable Feast volunteers coordinator Tom Patrick, the employee with the longest tenure with the organization at 14 years, says that even when money has been tight over the years Moveable Feast’s volunteers and staff members have remained true to their mission.

“If a mother comes down with this [virus], it affects the whole household, because usually the mother keeps the household together,” Patrick says. “Part of our purpose of Moveable Feast has been to keep families together. Sometimes we didn’t have the money, but we always put that extra potato in to make sure everybody got fed. And we’re still going to do that with the budget cuts.”

Debbie Rock, executive director of Baltimore’s pediatric HIV program and chairwoman of the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Services Planning Council, says Moveable Feast has always remained true to its mission despite the cutbacks and funding crunches all AIDS service organizations face. She praises the organization for being proactive in the face of a shrinking budget. “We all have to do what [Moveable Feast executive director] Vic Basile is doing,” Rock says. “And that’s putting on events and going after other funding sources.”

Thompson says she has been grateful for the kindness Moveable Feast staff members have shown her family: She describes friendships she’s made with the drivers who bring meals, and the cards, cupcakes, and gifts her children have received for birthdays, and turkeys with all the trimmings for Thanksgiving.

“Every time they do it I am so touched because they didn’t have to do it,” she says. To show her gratitude to the organization, Thompson got up out of her sickbed in May when Moveable Feast volunteers returned from Rehoboth Beach, Del., to Baltimore on their bikes as part of the annual Ride for the Feast fund-raising event.

“I was not feeling good that day at all,” she says. “But I had to go and greet the riders as they came in. I honestly felt like they were riding for me and my kids. So I had to be there to say thank you.”

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