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People with AIDS Can Live Healthier and Happier

On this World AIDS day, it is estimated that 40 million people around the world are now living with HIV and AIDS. Although new medications have dramatically increased the life expectancy of people living with the disease, each day is still a struggle to stay healthy and survive. Jeff Swicord reports on one organization in the Washington D.C. area that helps people with AIDS live healthier and fuller lives.

An early morning delivery from Food & Friends, a non-profit organization that provides free meals and friendship to people living with HIV and AIDS.

People like Duane Hanlon, who was diagnosed with AIDS six years ago after contracting a severe case of pneumonia. "I started Food & Friends right after I got out of the hospital because I had lost about 80 pounds, and when I got out I was totally weak. I couldn't squat down and get back up."

Food & Friends has delivered over nine million meals to more than 14,000 people since it was founded in 1988. Their staff of chefs and nutritionists work out of spacious facilities in Washington D.C.

The program fills a role that has been missing from AIDS care in the United States. People with HIV/AIDS are often too sick to work, and do not have the financial means to eat a healthy diet. And, the medications they must take to stay healthy often dramatically affect their appetite. Food & Friends staff nutritionists and chefs work closely with each client to balance their diet with their nutritional needs.

Charnay Henderson is the organization's program manager for Food & Friends. "The dietitians really work with the clients. If they are having an increase in appetite, they figure out ways to help them add in calories without overloading their system with fats and other things that they shouldn't have, or, the reverse. And if they have a decrease in appetite, figure out ways to break up the meal and try to get the calories they need in with the medications they have to take."

Seventy-five percent of Food & Friends clients live on less than $1,000 U.S. a month, which is below the poverty level in the Washington D.C. area. For those clients, the food services are a lifeline they would have trouble surviving without.

Food & Friends consists of three different meal programs: a home delivered meal program where clients get a package of three nutritious meals a day and snacks; groceries-to-go program where clients can cook their own meals for themselves and often their families; and meals-plus, which is a combination of prepared meals and groceries.

Services are personalized, says Henderson. "We really try to figure out what works best for the client. Based on where they are with their illness and what their particular needs are, we will send them that meal."

The services Food & Friends provide would not be possible without the help of more than 800 volunteers, who cook, pack and deliver meals and groceries. The volunteers often make lasting friendships with the clients.

Duane Hanlon says, aside from the great meals he gets, it's the other things that Food & Friends provide that mean the most. "It's a Food and Friends Christmas decoration. And they give Valentines cards, and here is my Thanksgiving card right here that came with my meals. All these little extra things that they do, like they bring a poinsettia for Christmas. I can't wait for my poinsettia. I really look forward to that."

Food & Friends continues to expand its client base. In 2005 it started a program targeted toward HIV-positive mothers. And it provides services to cancer patients as well.