Stone Soup: something to be thankful for
By Kelly McCann
Like many of you, the arrival of November has me preparing for Thanksgiving. I’ve begun cleaning the house anticipating the arrival of guests; I pulled the Fall harvest tablecloth out of the bottom drawer of the china cabinet; I’ve polished the buckle on my pilgrim’s hat (I’m just not femme enough to wear the bonnet, I’m afraid). And, of course, I’ve been planning the menu for the big day.
While thinking about the meal I will share with family and friends, my thoughts turned to the many clients of AIDS Foundation Houston who rely upon our Stone Soup Food Assistance Program to meet their nutritional needs.
More than 2500 people living with HIV and AIDS in a 10-county area surrounding Houston are assisted by Stone Soup each month. Most of these individuals (more than 90 percent) are on a fixed annual income of $10,000 or less, and 80 percent of them report they have less than $50 per month to spend on food. Obviously, Stone Soup is the difference between eating and going hungry for many of our clients.
And going hungry is just not a viable option for our clients if they hope to maintain good health. According to Dr. Elizabeth Duke of the U.S. Health and Human Services Administration, “Proper diet facilitates the absorption of medicine, mitigates the side effects of certain medications, assists in the maintenance of a stronger immune system, and stems muscle and weight loss” in persons infected with HIV.
Nutritional shortfalls can negatively impact the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy and lead to impaired immune function, which can actually speed the progression of HIV disease.
For those reasons, we at AFH have long considered Stone Soup to be one of our most important programs. But how did it all begin?
“Long, long ago in a foreign land, some hungry soldiers started a wondrous pot of soup with three stones in a kettle of water. The villagers rallied to help the hungry soldiers by adding a carrot, a potato, and an onion. Soon, there was a feast fit for a king.”
More than 20 years ago, that folk tale and its spirit of collaboration inspired
staff members, volunteers, and donors to open the first HIV/AIDS food pantry in Houston. Since that time, we have been providing food and nutritional counseling to persons with limited incomes who are living with HIV and AIDS. And today, the funding and operation of Stone Soup remains a community effort.
For example, 25 volunteers help staff the nine Stone Soup shifts each week. Those bighearted folks give their time to meet and greet clients, complete paperwork, distribute food, and even help clients select outfits from our donated clothing closet. They add a kind, human touch to the delivery of this much-needed service.
Through a beneficial association with the Houston Food Bank, AFH purchases discounted boxes of non-perishable food items that we, in turn, distribute to our clients. Each box contains dried beans, rice, canned meats, fruits and vegetables, cereal, peanut butter, and, occasionally, items like cooking oil and sugar. Also included is a booklet containing recipe ideas that incorporate the foods in the box. Now for the really good part: Each box holds approximately $43 worth of food but our cost is just $7.50!
Along with a food box each month, Stone Soup clients receive a $22.50 grocery voucher from Kroger. Clients can use the voucher to purchase fresh foods such as meat and produce, dairy products, and bread to supplement the items in the box. AFH leverages a five-percent rebate on the vouchers we purchase, which we use to buy even more vouchers.
Since governmental funding is limited, donations from corporations, individuals, private foundations, and other community groups are vital to Stone Soup’s survival. One local charitable organization, PWA Holiday Charities (led by Don Gill), is a significant Stone Soup partner. For more than a decade, this organization has distributed Kroger gift certificates to Stone Soup clients so they can purchase a turkey and/or other items needed to prepare their Thanksgiving meals. PWA Holiday Charities and all of our other supporters truly embody the spirit of the villagers in the Stone Soup fable, and their generosity helps ensure people living with HIV/AIDS have daily good nutrition as well as a holiday “feast fit for a king.”
To learn more about the Stone Soup Food Assistance Program, or to share your bounty, please visit the AFH website at www.AIDSHelp.org or call 713/623-6796.
Kelly McCann is the chief executive officer of AIDS Foundation Houston, which recently marked 25 years of service. Details: www.aidshelp.org.