One morning three years ago, staff and volunteers arrived at A Loving Spoonful’s head office in downtown Vancouver to find a five-foot tall mural of their rainbow-and-heart-shaped logo on the wall of their loading bay.
The paint perpetrator was never identified – not that it was a problem, as the culprit apparently had the spirit of the rest of the crew: Do good, and be subtle.
Their discretion occurs every Tuesday afternoon, as drivers, their cars loaded with coolers, fan out from downtown to the city and its suburbs.
With no logos on the cars, no uniforms, and plain white plastic bags, they deliver tailored food packages to clients living with HIV/AIDS.
A Loving Spoonful Executive Director Lisa Martella says clients’ privacy is such a priority, that in some families, even the children of parents with HIV/AIDS don’t know their mom or dad are sick.
Yes, the stigma still exists, even if the illness isn’t considered the death sentence it once was.
A Loving Spoonful started as far back as 1989, when a Vancouver woman named Easter Armas (now still a board member) saw a friend eating from a dumpster. He had lost his job because he was HIV-positive.
She began to prepare meals for him in her kitchen.
Before long, she had clients, donors and volunteers – some with cars.
Based in an office and warehouse in False Creek, the mission of A Loving Spoonful is to ensure that no one living with HIV/AIDS also lives with hunger.
Photo by Boaz Joseph: Volunteers at A Loving Spoonful on a Tuesday morning.
Each Tuesday, a portion of the society’s volunteers arrive to sort the food load it into cars that arrive in the afternoon.
Meals for the 250 to 300 clients in Greater Vancouver are rarely identical, and are closely monitored by a staff dietitian that evaluates the needs of each individual client.
For some clients with serious health issues, the food is minced or puréed, for others restricted-diet.
“Food is medicine,” explains Martella, a North Delta resident and former staffer at the Vancouver Food Bank. “In order for the medications to work, you need good food to go with that.”
Packages to individual clients hold seven meals and snacks, meant to last as one meal per day for one week. Hampers for families are much larger, providing three meals a day, plus snacks, for the entire family for the week.
Each individual and family receiving service is screened for eligibility and nutritional risk.
Adapting new program models to tailor to its growing client community over the years, the non-profit society delivers 100,000 meals per year.
A Loving Spoonful currently serves three client families and two individuals with HIV/AIDS in Surrey, and the number of clients is expected to grow.
“We’ve been in Surrey since 2007,” says Martella. “We have a shortage of volunteer drivers – we’re in desperate need.”
While A Loving Spoonful has 300 volunteers and 42 drivers, none are involved in Surrey.
Currently, the small staff of seven (two work part-time) is forced to make those deliveries south of the Fraser River.
“We’re a very lean organization,” says Martella. “We don’t even have a receptionist.”
Martella says drivers for Surrey’s clients don’t have to reside in Surrey. They can live in Delta, White Rock or even Langley, and can deliver the hampers on their way home after picking them up in Vancouver.
A Loving Spoonful’s programs:
• The Daily Meals Program: Provides seven easy-to-reheat, home-delivered meals and snacks to people who are primarily home-bound with AIDS.
• The Family Pantry: Provides produce, dry goods and canned protein to individual families not capable of sourcing their own meals.
• Supervised Meals Distribution: Working with other agencies in the Downtown Eastside, they offer daily, supervised meals provision to those living with AIDS whose living environment is not stable enough for them to store or reheat our meals safely.
• Emergency Service: Provides full nutrition (three meals per day plus snacks) for those who have just been released from the hospital and/or have an acute medical condition that leaves them housebound and in need of complete nutrition care. First deliveries are on the day of release from hospital.
• Ensure Program: Involves short-term provision of high-protein meal supplements to assist with nutrition absorption and weight-gain in those who present an elevated nutritional risk.
• Easter’s Sundays: A monthly catered hot lunch service open to 50 individuals living with HIV/AIDS in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The service is named after the program’s founder, Easter Armas.
• Hot Meals for Homeless Youth: A Loving Spoonful has partnered with a youth AIDS organization to provide nutritious hot meals to homeless HIV-positive youth once a week.
• Prenatal Program: A Loving Spoonful launched this program in 2010 due to the increased number of pregnant women applying for service. Clients are given attention by a dietitian throughout their pregnancy.