in the spotlight
Volume 23/Issue 6/2005

Toni Pizanie



by Toni Pizanie

Food for Friends

For many of us, we get involved with the Gay Easter Parade simply because it is fun. But for others, it is a chance to assist Food for Friends (FFF). Why this group? It is because of the lack of Federal funding and the increase in AIDS clients. FFF is administered through the NO/AIDS Task Force who also coordinates testing, counseling, education, hot line information and much more.

For many years due to the shortage of financing from the Federal Government, individuals in need of help have counted on donations to the NO/AIDS Task Force. One source is PFLAG where members are asked to bring non food items to each meeting for Food for Friends to distribute as needed. The loss of financing has made it impossible to feed people and still provide items like toothpaste, tooth brushes, soap, razor blades, shampoo, tissues and other toiletries. When Director Noel Twilbeck sends out the call for additional assistance, PFLAG members like Julie Thompson and Barry Brown jumped to answer the call.

Barry lives Uptown on the Mardi Gras parade routes. He has made it a yearly fund raiser to invite friends to his home to view the parades. The admission is a donation to FFF and the Task Force. His efforts have been considerable and rewarding.

PFLAG President Julie has made FFF a family project. Although she has no family members that have been stricken with AIDS, she has had friends that were in need of FFF. The Thompson family is even teaching their children and grandchildren to help by taking them shopping for items needed by the clients of FFF. They have taken on FFF as their Christmas experience by giving to FFF rather than themselves.

Both Noel and Julie agree that morale is important to the improved health of FFF clients. So when funding stopped allowing non food items to be distributed, community assistance was necessary. As just one individual who takes part in the process, I can attest to the fact that it is painless to pick up two or three extra items each week when you do your shopping and bring them to a PFLAG meeting or directly to FFF. It is the easy way to help if your budget doesn’t allow you to write a monthly or annual check.

Noel was kind enough to take time to give me some statistics recently. FFF was established April in 1992. It has taken the place of New Orleans People with AIDS Food Bank. Back in the mid 1980’s when I moved home from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I was one of Fred’s volunteers and saw this agency do some wonderful work. Today FFF is continuing to provide an important service to people with AIDS. FFF moved to its present location on Columbus Street off North Broad and Esplanade in 1995.

The first year FFF served 20 clients. At its high point, there were 150 clients. Today only 40 clients are receiving home delivery due to the stern eligibility criteria. These meals are high in nutrition to counteract the effects of the powerful drugs AIDS patients must take to live.

NO/AIDS receives money through Ryan White Title 1 funding. Funding received in 2003/4 was $508,643. Funding received in 2004/5 was $100,000 less at $408,629. Previously funds have been shared between FFF and the North Shore Food Bank. The proposed funding for 2005/6 is only $242,775, and more limitations are being placed on eligibility.

The battle against AIDS is still raging in New Orleans, and people from lower incomes are being hit the hardest. It is up to us to once again involve ourselves in the Task Force. We need to keep it alive for everyone. Noel explained that one frustrating fact is that the cost for serving 60 is not much more than serving 40. The reason is fixed costs like rent, utilities, up keep of the location, and salary for the chief. Limitations on clients which are set outside the Task Force are another problem causing a smaller serving base.

Noel said that funding and grants are mostly constant. It is the increase in cases that are placing a bind on the budget. More and more each year, people are relying on the services of the Task Force and FFF, and it is getting more difficult to fund and provide for everyone. Limited resources equal limited clients that can be served.

There are many misunderstandings about funding and grants for the Task Force. To have more money for clients, the Task Force has reduced paid staff and made administrative cuts. Yet they are still providing services as primary medical care, medication, case management, oral health care, mental health care and substance abuse health care.

FFF must have special foods for the special diets of the clients such as no salt. These foods are more costly, and Noel fears that if the funding does not come in, the quality will go down. Noel said, "FFF needs more money to keep up the quality and increase the client base." They are presently looking for alternative purchasing sources to stretch their funding dollars. It takes $600,000 a year to pay for the food, services and staff of the FFF program.

The FFF budget is short $25,000 to $30,000 each year. This shortfall must come from the community. One source that is hoped for but unknown for the future is a grant from Altria, formerly the group consisting of Kraft Foods, Philip Morris and others. In 2005, Altria’s grant is $35,000. Above grants and Federal funding, NO/AIDS Task Force needs $500,000 — that’s right, a half million — to serve the community that depends on them. And fund-raising has dropped.

Private donations have lessened over the years. Once high profile annual fund-raising events no longer attract as many participants or donations. Additional memorials are needed as well as honorariums.

With the face of AIDS in New Orleans changing, the donation sources are changing. In the Bush economy, there is less money to be shared by private individuals. "People have become complacent," Noel sadly admitted. I asked if there was some discrimination today. "I would not like to think that," Noel said. He has faith in people and in the greater community helping to meet the needs of AIDS clients. He said his "confidence in the community has not diminished. New Orleanians have not failed to support FFF because our clients depend on them."

You can support FFF by attending the last three fund-raising events before Easter listed in the Official New Orleans Gay Easter Parade ads or becoming a sponsor. Visit GayEasterParade.COM for more information.

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