In the midst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, a group of friends in St. Louis started cooking meals in the kitchen of a church. These meals were distributed to seven people they knew who were living with the disease.
That small group of friends quickly grew into a non-profit organization called Food Outreach.
Today, 28 years after it was founded, Food Outreach provides nutritional counseling and meals to low-income individuals with HIV/AIDS or cancer.
Volunteers and staff members distribute 55,000 protein-rich meals every week and offer special services for anyone whose ability to eat or drink is compromised by their illness.
On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh was joined in studio by Julie Pole, the executive director of Food Outreach, and Mallory Ubbelohde, the organization’s registered dietitian. They discussed Food Outreach’s mission and programs as well as the role of adequate nutrition in increasing quality of life for HIV/AIDS and cancer patients.
While Food Outreach delivers meals to some of its clients, most people visit the organization’s headquarters in Midtown to pick up groceries.
“They come in for the first time to have a counseling appointment with Mallory, our registered dietitian, and then they are able to come in every two weeks and choose from a list of items made from our scratch-prepared kitchen,” said Pole. “Two meals for every day for two weeks, and then while they’re in treatment or while they’re struggling with their disease they can continue to come back.”
In order to qualify for Food Outreach’s free programs, clients must be living at or below 300% of the federal poverty line.
“Over 76% of our clients are living at 100% of the federal poverty line or below, which means they’re living on less than $12,000 a year,” Pole explained.
During the initial nutrition assessment, Mallory spends an hour getting to know new clients and gathering information about their symptoms, which often include weight loss, poor appetite, and digestive problems. This allows her to develop a meal plan based on a client’s individual needs.
Food Outreach isn’t just concerned with addressing physical needs; its ultimate goal is to help increase quality of life for people living with an illness, and sometimes this is achieved through social interaction as well.
Once a week, the organization hosts a “Hot Lunch Monday” event, which gives clients a restaurant experience that is both healthy and free-of-charge.
“One of our chefs and volunteers scratch prepare a meal and then serve a three-course meal with linens and a set table to any clients who want to come with their caregiver or loved one, and then we can eat in community,” said Pole.
In order to continue providing these services to the St. Louis community, Food Outreach relies on approximately 600-700 volunteers and donations to fund their work. Anyone interested in getting involved with the organization can visit their website or contact their volunteer coordinator, Kathy Spencer.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.