I just returned from the annual ANSA* conference, and I left impressed and inspired by this vibrant and evolving segment of the anti-hunger movement: community-based organizations that provide food and nutrition services to people living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses.
These agencies came into existence in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic essentially to help their families, friends and community members die with dignity. Most provided comfort in the form of a hot, nutritious, home-delivered meal to people too sick and too poor to feed themselves.
By the mid-1990s, effective drug therapies were enabling people to live longer with this illness. What was once a death sentence had become a chronic but manageable disease, and the need for consistent nutrition became a crucial component in helping HIV medications work effectively. And as some of their clients got stronger and resumed more active lifestyles, the agencies responded by developing program innovations like frozen meal services or the option for clients to pick up food at food pantry sites.
Today people grow old with this disease and are subject to other ailments and conditions that increase with age, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. And, once again, ANSA members are responding by applying what they learned about nutrition in their AIDS work to help clients cope as they manage multiple diseases.
The program activities and impact of ANSA network demonstrates the role of food as medicine and the enormous power of nutrition in producing positive health outcomes. This connection between food and health is an increasing focus of all of MAZON’s grantees – whether it’s a food bank, AIDS nutrition service provider or advocacy organization. Kids need nutritious meals at school; a single adult needs access to healthy food to thrive and be productive; and a healthy diet helps a sick senior with disease prevention, management and progression.
Increasing the nutritional quality of the food in the emergency food system and advocating for public policies that increase access to healthy food are noble, appropriate and achievable goals we all must strive toward.
* The Association of Nutrition Services Agencies is an organization of advocates and food providers that seeks to increase the capacity and impact of its member network of nutrition organizations.