Providing food to those in need is something to be thankful for

Thanksgiving is upon us again. It is a time to be thankful for the many gifts life has to offer. Mazzoni Center’s patients and clients receive an abundance of vital services, none more so than our food bank. What better time is there to learn more about one of Mazzoni Center’s oldest services than at a holiday that focuses on food and being thankful?

Mazzoni Center has provided free nutritious food via our food bank program, Vivian’s Cupboard, since 1988. It is the first food bank dedicated to serving individuals and families with HIV/AIDS. The food bank allows low-income, HIV-positive Philadelphians to select canned and dry-good items in a pantry-style setting. Our emergency food-bank services are based on the recognition that consistent access to adequate nutrition is vital to the overall health and well-being of persons living with HIV/AIDS. Individuals and families dealing with chronic illnesses like HIV/AIDS are vulnerable to poverty, hunger and worsening health outcomes. Without access to food, people are often reluctant to start or maintain their current medication regimen or struggle to maintain good health. Proper nutrition is also an effective means of lowering health-care costs in the long-term. Our food bank strives to provide healthy food items to our clients who, due to a variety of circumstances, are unable to purchase them.

Throughout our history, Mazzoni Center’s Food Bank has consistently responded to the needs of the communities we serve. Originally, the food bank was an all-volunteer, donation-based community effort, organized as a direct response to the HIV/AIDS crisis. In 1997, with the advent of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Fund, all HIV-care services received an influx of funding. This funding allowed volunteers to purchase food from a distribution center as opposed to relying on donated canned goods and, in the span of just one year, the food bank doubled the number of clients it served. 

By the early 2000s, treatment providers began to recognize new nutritional needs for those living with HIV. Clients accessing the food bank now required leaner foods and, as a result, the focus of the food bank shifted to providing more nutritious, lower-fat and heart-healthy options. Vivian’s Cupboard ensures that people living with HIV/AIDS maintain optimal health and improves the efficacy of HIV-treatment regimens by providing them with a consistent, nutritious supply of food. Referred individuals may access the food bank two times per month and receive the equivalent of four meals for each member of their household at each visit.

Mazzoni Center’s Food Bank collaborates with two other local emergency food-service agencies: Philabundance, the largest nonprofit food bank that serves the Philadelphia and Delaware Valley regions of Pennsylvania, and SHARE (Self Help And Resource Exchange), a nonprofit providing emergency food relief to low-income Philadelphia residents facing hunger. We have referral agreements with 25 other local nonprofit agencies and medical clinics that refer food-insecure clients to us to access services. 

Our emergency food bank provides vital nutritional support to our clients, as evidenced by the fact that in the last year we have already had more than 9,644 visits to the food bank, serving 1,164 households and more than 1,300 individuals. The majority of our food-bank clients (97 percent) lack the financial resources to meet the basic nutritional needs of their household, and 78 percent of them are at or below the federal poverty level. Last year, Mazzoni Center provided more than 110 tons of food, equivalent to 44,000 meals, reaching more than 1,300 unduplicated individuals. We have already exceeded the total number of bags of groceries distributed throughout the entire year last year by 11 percent, and we expect this number to keep growing steadily.

This past year, Mazzoni Center’s social workers, medical providers and therapists reported a marked increase in the number of clients sharing that, in addition to the various social, physical, mental and emotional challenges they faced, an overwhelming number were facing severe difficulty in meeting their basic needs, especially with regard to food security. In May, when Mazzoni Center moved to its new home at Broad and Bainbridge streets, we gained approximately 25-percent more space for our food bank, including two freezers for frozen goods including meat. This feedback, coupled with the additional space, enabled us to expand our food-bank services. Since June, any other Mazzoni Center patients or clients who express that they are food-insecure are referred to and registered with our food bank, where a coordinator will assist them in accessing our services. Our goal to serve the ever-increasing number of food-bank clients has already been impacted by our recent move.

We are thrilled to announce that this month, the M∙A∙C AIDS Fund has awarded Mazzoni Center $10,000 to support our food-bank efforts. With this funding, we will continue expanding our food-bank services to additional individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS and other LGBT individuals who may be in need of additional food support.

For more information on Mazzoni Center’s Food Bank, contact Katie Queen at 215-563-0652 ext. 212.