Blog Center for Community Health Partnership & Research Infectious Disease

Food Outreach helps local HIV/AIDS patients through nutrition and education

Written by Jessica Healey, marketing and event specialist at Food Outreach

For more than 27 years, Food Outreach has continued to be the only nonprofit organization in the greater St. Louis area that focuses on providing vital nutritional support to low-income men, women and children with HIV/AIDS or cancer. An impassioned staff, along with 600 dedicated volunteers, cooks, packs, and distributes over 560,000 meals to 2,000 clients annually.

Nutrition is very closely linked with HIV/AIDS. Not only can HIV/AIDS affect an individual’s overall nutritional status but an individual’s nutrition and diet can influence the state of their HIV/AIDS, as well. Nutrition is part of an essential role in the management of HIV/AIDS, which is why Food Outreach has made this its mission.

Low-income populations living with a life-threatening illness are most vulnerable in their fight to regain their health, as they generally do not have access to critical, nutritional support (counseling, monitoring, and nutritious food). To be eligible for our services, an individual must have proof of diagnosis and meet income guidelines, i.e., live at or below 300% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) or $35,310 annual income. The majority (70%) of clients actually live at or below 150% of the FPL.

Food Outreach’s comprehensive nutrition program is free of charge and includes scratch-made frozen prepared meals and groceries, nutrition counseling and classes, congregate Monday Hot Lunches, and home delivery as appropriate. The Integrated Frozen Prepared Meals and Groceries Program is the main component of our services, with the goal to serve each client with as many as two meals per day, year-round. These meals or liquid supplements are best suited to client needs and based on their current health status as determined by our on-staff Registered Dietitian. A secondary goal is improved treatment adherence and medication efficacy. Yet, many treatments have severe gastrointestinal side effects such as diarrhea, anorexia, mouth sores, swallowing difficulty, taste changes, weight loss, muscle wasting, nausea, vomiting, and poor appetite. Our food, and working with our Registered Dietitian, can mitigate these effects further ensuring clients are taking their medications as prescribed. Food Outreach’s programs are ongoing, and new clients are enrolled each week.

Our Dietitian meets with each client to assess their nutritional status at the time of enrollment, including administering a Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) to detect malnutrition and muscle wasting earlier than with a visual diagnosis. Muscle wasting is a fatal manifestation of either HIV/AIDS or cancer. The Dietitian inquires about problems that may affect nutritional status, including changes in smell and taste, nausea, and loss of appetite, and develops an eating plan to help optimize their medical care and associated drug treatments. Eating a well-balanced diet can help to reach and maintain a healthy weight, strengthen the immune system, and prevent infections or illnesses from occurring. It also helps the body build and keep muscle, allowing medications to be more effective.

Many symptoms associated with HIV/AIDS can be managed and controlled with an appropriate diet best-suited to the individual. Following the initial assessment, the Dietitian assists the client in selecting their first food order through our Grocery Center. Food orders consist of a combination of groceries and scratch-made frozen meals. Our on-staff Chef and Dietitian work in tandem to develop the menu selections, and clients reorder from the changing menu every two weeks.

Our Meal Delivery Program addresses the needs of homebound clients. In order to enhance this service, we launched a program in late 2014 with the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis (VNA) called Life Link. A VNA nurse travels with our Van Driver on his delivery route and provides blood pressure screenings, detects muscle wasting, takes physical weight, inventories medication, and instructs clients how to assess the safety of their homes. The VNA nurse shares the information with our Registered Dietitian who will adjust nutrition goals as appropriate.

Food Outreach hosts a congregate lunch each Monday which clients are encouraged to attend along with family, friends, or caregivers. These three-course meals are served restaurant-style by volunteers. In addition to the meal, we often invite experts in the health industry to answer questions clients may have and discuss emerging topics in treatments. Our Registered Dietitian and Chef host monthly nutrition education and cooking classes. With our education series, clients are able to improve their knowledge of general nutrition and educate their children and other family members about proper nutrition and healthful eating habits. And through the comprehensive nutritional services offered at Food Outreach, clients are able to improve their overall health and quality of life, better manage their well-being, and improve treatment adherence.

Visit the Food Outreach website for more details about these programs and how you can help.