Guest Blog: Food is Medicine

May 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

Alissa WassungBy Alissa Wassung
Director of Policy & Planning
God’s Love We Deliver, New York City

Judging by research released this month in the American Journal of Medicine and an article in The Atlantic, people are catching on to the fact that access to good food can be a form of preventive medicine.

Nearly one in three U.S. adults with a chronic disease has problems paying for food, medicine, or both. Researchers at Harvard and the University of California at San Francisco studied data from the 2011 U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s National Health Interview Survey, and of the 10,000 adults who reported that they had a chronic disease such as diabetes, asthma, arthritis, high blood pressure, stroke, a mental health problem, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, nearly one in five said they had problems affording food during the past 30 days, qualifying as “food insecure.” Nearly one in four said they had skipped medication dosages because of cost. More than one in ten said they had problems paying for both food and medication. Among those whose illnesses were most diet-related, like diabetes and heart disease, individuals were particularly concerned with finding the right food needed to stay healthy.

Our foundation as New York City’s leading provider of medically-tailored home delivered meals for men, women and children living with serious illnesses was built 29 years ago during the first years of the AIDS pandemic, delivering meals to clients to combat the wasting effects of the diagnosis. As the  trajectory of the disease has changed, so has the way in which we deliver nutrition. At God’s Love, we know firsthand what more and more research proves every day: food is medicine. When people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) are food secure, they are more likely to take their medications, and keep doctors’
appointments. They are more likely to have higher CD4 counts and undetectable viral loads, and are more likely to engage and remain in care.

What is clear from all this is that PLWHA should not have to choose between food and medication if we are to attain our goal of an AIDS Free Generation.
The Ryan White Program offers the most comprehensive package of food and nutrition support in the country, but it is still not enough. A recent longitudinal study of PLWHA in New York City demonstrated that 42% of PLWHA who were receiving food assistance were still food insecure.

The article in The Atlantic focuses on how Medicaid could help patients afford their medications and also suggests screening tools to help doctors connect patients to existing food programs, like SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps). But other options go unmentioned. Food and nutrition services (FNS), especially medically tailored home-delivered meals for the most at-risk individuals, could be incorporated into medical care through coverage in private and public insurance, resulting in massive cost savings for providers, and better health outcomes for patients.

Client Hassan M  and volunteer (17)To put the cost savings in perspective, MANNA, our sister FNS agency in Philadelphia that delivers medically tailored home-delivered meals, recently mounted a rigorous pilot study matching MANNA clients to a control group within a local managed care organization to compare healthcare costs on and off the MANNA FNS program. The results were stunning. Average health care costs for MANNA clients fell 62% for three months after beginning services (for a total of almost $30,000). For PLWHA, the cost savings were even more dramatic, falling over 80% in the first three months.

Compared to medical care, food is cheap. You can feed a person a home-delivered diet tailored for their unique medical circumstances for $20 a day. Hospitalization can cost $4,000 a day. If food services prevent one day of hospitalization for a person with chronic illness, the medical cost savings would feed them for more than half a year. The impact of providing patients with the right food for their medical situations is undeniable, and yet, there remains great resistance to the concept of “food is medicine” in healthcare.

There are some positive signs. Progressive states, like New York and Maryland, have already incorporated FNS into the Medicaid benefits package for their most at-risk populations through federal waivers. Although FNS programs, like God’s Love, are small relative to the need and are centered largely in urban areas, we are demonstrating successful outcomes. Our hope is that modeling cost-savings and positive health outcomes will encourage other states to follow suit. Until they do, some of the most vulnerable among us will be forced to choose between two forms of medicine.

To learn more about God’s Love We Deliver, visit

Working Towards a Healthier NOLA

April 16, 2014 in AmeriCorps, HIV/AIDS Awareness Days

Can you believe it’s almost halfway through April? Yeah, that’s what Team NOLA is feeling as this month flies by. March was a busy one for us. With countless meetings, Walgreens testing, Long Term Project, and several other events (cough cough Mardi Gras) – we barely had time to breathe. March was also Healthy Futures Month. We spent the month of March and beginning of April focusing on what we could do as a team to promote healthy living in New Orleans. Below is a snapshot of our “extra healthy” month:

1) Walgreens testing — This has been such an amazing partnership. Every other Thursday, the four of us head to one of the two Walgreens to test for four hours. We now have laminated signs in each store (yeah, we’re fancy) and two testing spaces. The testing has gone fabulously, especially since we started using INSTI, a 60-second finger-prick test. Find out your status in one minute- um, how could you say NO? More and more people are getting tested each week –and we have officially memorized all of the aisles in Walgreens.


Students learn about clinics in their area

2) Syphilis Outreach — This is as fun as it sounds (well, fun for us). During the month of March we did outreach in three different locations across New Orleans. The purpose of outreach was to inform the community about free to low-cost testing resources. We also had quite a few conversations about syphilis itself (extra fun!) including the signs and symptoms, local infection rates, risks of no treatment, and treatment options. Needless to say we all have some entertaining stories.


C.H.A.T. talks with students about their program

3) Health Fair- On March 19th Landry-Walker High School held a Health Extravaganza and invited our partner organizations, NO/AIDS Task Force (NATF) and Priority Health Care. Rebecca and I paired up with C.H.A.T. (Curbing HIV/AIDS Transmission), a youth program through NATF, to give away awesome prizes. We managed the “sex education table” where students could spin our wheel for a sexual health-related question. We had a blast! We talked with about 80 kids – all of whom knew little to nothing about HIV and STIs. The students were not shy with their questions which made it way more fun for us.  Overall, it was a well-planned and informative event. There was hula-hooping, food, games, prizes and more!



Students show off their sweet hula-hooping skills



From left- Louie, Lauren, Rebecca, and Michael setting up the tent for NYHAAD

4) NYHAAD- My favorite event in the last month or so was definitely National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (mouthful, right?). For NYHAAD, two of our placements hosted a testing/education event (C.H.A.T. Project & The Movement). We had free condoms, educational games, a photo booth… and even fried chicken! The testing event lasted 5 hours so it could accommodate those just getting out of school. We set up a booth outside of The Movement’s office- which happens to be a pretty busy corner- to attract attention to our testing event. A total of 20 people got tested, but plenty of people stopped by to learn….and of course grab food!

You may ask- what was the best part of your day, Helene? — JUST DANCE. At the end of the day, all four of us got to play the “Just Dance” game on the PS3 at the office. We had quite the audience. Hopefully all of the dancing evidence is burned. ;) Rebecca took home the crown of “best Team NOLA dancer” and our sweaty sad attempt at dancing ended in the cutest team picture of all time (see below).


Louie modeling next to our sex education wheel


Louie and I rocking The Movement’s photo booth for NYHAAD


The cutest team photo ever- courtesy of our city supervisor


5) Long Term Project- So this is ACTUALLY the most exciting thing of the month- and the months to come! Our team is working on a website to help link individuals, especially youth, to medical care. Linkage to care is an incredibly important issue nationwide- but also in our own backyard. We want this website to be an important and holistic resource for someone who is newly diagnosed with HIV, who wants to get back into care, or who has just moved to NOLA and needs resources. Receiving an HIV-positive diagnosis can be overwhelming. We want this website to be not only informative, but also encouraging and personal. During the month of March, we presented the website to several committees and had countless meetings.

To Team NOLA, this website is at the core of our “Healthy Futures” month. We made sure it was mobile-friendly, understandable, and discreet. Although it is a work-in-progress, we hope this website empowers youth to take charge of their own health and even inspire their peers. Stay tuned for the website launch! We can’t wait to share it and get some feedback. :)


Please excuse my incredibly long post this month. Healthy Futures month had us busy- but also I have troubling shutting up. If you have any questions -or just want to say hi to Team NOLA- our email is !



National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: The Need for Action

April 11, 2014 in HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, Policy/Advocacy, Uncategorized

Rachel headshotBy Rachel Yull
Public Policy Intern, AIDS United

This Thursday, April 10, was National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, commemorating the work that young people are doing to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  This day gives young people the opportunity to show support as well as educate people about HIV.  I have noticed a lack of young people advocating for social issues, including HIV, and I encourage all youth to get involved in the fight to end HIV in our generation.  There are many things that you can do to get involved, whether getting tested at a local testing center, organizing a sexual health and HIV education program at your school, or distributing free condoms to increase access and awareness of safe practices.

Although HIV has not directly affected my close friends or family, I became an advocate after learning of the health disparities that exist within the Black community.  As a young Black woman I find this day of paramount importance for people in my demographic: the incidence of HIV among Black youth has been on the rise and Black youth make up 57% of all HIV infections among young people age 18-24.

Last year, during my sophomore year of college at Cornell University, I took a class entitled “The Sociology of Health of Ethnic Minorities.” This course gave me the ability to understand and the language to verbalize the health disparities that I have seen in my community.  With this knowledge I decided that I wanted to become an HIV advocate inspiring me to reach out to the AIDS United policy team.  When I received an internship to work with the policy team for a semester, I had no idea what to expect. I had never done any advocacy work before and the only things I knew about HIV were what I learned in class, but my internship at AIDS United has been one of the best experiences I have ever had.

Through my internship I have learned that although the rates of HIV are decreasing there is still much work to be done.  I learned about the HIV treatment cascade, which includes all of the steps of treatment from being diagnosed through having an undetectable viral load.  Among youth the most significant problem along the treatment cascade is a lack of awareness of their status, or their lack of education about the importance of getting tested.  According to the CDC, almost 60% of HIV positive youth do not know their status.  Therefore, National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day reminds us to pay particular attention to campaigns and programs to educate youth on the importance of getting tested and knowing their status.  From my experience at AIDS United, I have also realized the importance of young people getting involved in politics and having our voices heard by our Representatives and Senators in Congress. This is the one of the effective ways that our generation can effect policy change that can help in leading to an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  On this National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, let’s not only reflect on the work that needs to be done, but resolve to take action and do the work, regardless of our age or status.

National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: Music, Media, and Outreach

in HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, Policy/Advocacy, Uncategorized


By Bernadette Carriere
Pedro Zamora Public Policy Fellow, AIDS United

I grew up in the early 90’s, an era when HIV was considered a death sentence, an idea that was perpetuated by much of the popular culture of the time.  Music channels like MTV were among the first to take the lead to promote awareness about many issues facing young people, including HIV, and the plight of urban youth. These two issues came to an intersection on the music television station with the untimely death of rapper Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, who died in 1995, soon after being diagnosed with AIDS.

I remember watching MTV’s news cover the rapper’s death.  N.W.A.’s group members, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and MC Ren, were talking about their fallen comrade in disbelief as he would no longer be with them after contracting the fatal illness.  The media frenzy surrounding his death was headline news because HIV could now look like anyone.  After all, HIV was a virus associated with white gay males. A year prior, MTV aired The Real World: San Francisco which featured a cast member who was infected with the virus that causes AIDS.  The cast member for whom my fellowship was named, Pedro Zamora, brought international attention to HIV/AIDS and issues surrounding the LGBT community.

Prior to airing Real World: San Francisco, MTV helped to make an R&B girl group popular.  TLC gained rapid popularity through their racy song lyrics and their fashion sense.  They wore oversized clothing with condoms pinned to them.  They used their image to bring awareness to social issues that included the promotion of safe sex and they did so by removing the shame associated with condoms.  Everyone who watched music videos was able to see and hear their message.  However, after the death of Eazy-E, the message was now resonating with young adults across America.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to visit Metro TeenAIDS in DC’s Southeast neighborhood. I met with executive Director Adam Tenner, who listened to me express many concerns I had over the issues urban youth face today.  I was impressed by his level of commitment to kids that are sometimes dismissed as hopeless.  I was also equally impressed by the use of media and music Metro TeenAIDS used to keep the kids engaged in the program, as music videos on television have given way to web channels as a major component of youth engagement.

Then I had the opportunity to meet these wonderful kids who were well-mannered and welcoming.  They embraced me into their world and included me into their discussions.  I was initially shocked at the level of openness in which these kids engaged one another.   As an individual would openly talk about personal adversity another would politely listen and wait to share whatever it was that they were dealing with at the moment.  Most of the issues they discussed centered on wanting to be treated with respect and being trusted that they could make decisions and be responsible if given the proper tools.

It was poetry Friday.  Music was playing in the background and I wanted to engage the kids before the performances started.  I was interested in why was it important for them to be a part of Metro TeenAIDS considering the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.  The response from the kids I talked to was the same.  They felt empowered to be able to teach their peers about sexual health and HIV prevention and they were using several media outlets to engage one another.

I left that day truly inspired.  The kids I spoke to were able to articulate their feelings about HIV and explain how they based their decisions to take action. Today, music television is no longer the primary source for reaching youth, and HIV is no longer seen as a death sentence.  However, music is still an important component in connecting with young people.  Metro TeenAIDS has utilized this method and has successfully created a community space for kids to unite.  They have also provided kids with the necessary tools they need to become effective advocates in the prevention of HIV/AIDS.

Month of March in Cleveland

April 7, 2014 in AmeriCorps

Team Cleveland kept busy during the month of March with getting the word out about our Long Term Project plans and the AmeriCorps program.

On March 9, we participated in an annual Cleveland event called The Tolerance Fair. The event was hosted by a group called Honor Good Deeds and is held annually to raise awareness about differences and diversity. Different organizations from around the Cleveland area set up tables and share information about the work that they do. This year it was estimated that about 4,000 people attended the event.  We were there with the AIDS Funding Collaborative table getting the word out about HIV and our Americorps program. Many people were interested in what we do and what AmeriCorps is. As members, we were able to make great connections in the community for places to volunteer at, do HIV-related work such as presentations at, and one member was asked to give a talk about the AmeriCorps program at an organization with clients who might be interested in applying. All in all, it was a great opportunity to speak with other organizations and community members who are dedicated to making positive change while we got the word out about who the AIDS United Team Cleveland is and what we do.

Setting up at the Tolerance Fair

March also marked the month in which we finalized plans for our Long Term Project.  Through attending local meetings in the HIV community and passing surveys out to consumers, we realized as a team we saw a need for some sort of retreat or gathering for people living with HIV in the Cleveland area. We decided we will host a day long wellness empowerment workshop for PLWHA. At this event, people will have the opportunity to participate in facilitated workshops related to empowerment, wellness, and overall well-being and community-building. We began publicizing this event on March 19 at a community briefing held by the AIDS Funding Collaborative. This event was attended by other people who work in the HIV community here in Cleveland. We spoke briefly about who we are as Americorps members and what our program is about. We then made an announcement about our Long Term Project plans, while passing out flyers that we had created about our event. We have also launched a GoFundMe website to raise awareness about our event while also fundraising.

Long Term Project informational flyer

Long Term Project informational flyer

In all, we look forward to continuing our work on our project as we get the word out to the community!

Team Chicago: Housing IS Healthcare

in AmeriCorps

While treatment has evolved to the point that HIV/AIDS can be a manageable chronic illness for most, unstable housing severely threatens that reality. Homelessness impedes access to healthcare, leaves one vulnerable to hazardous health conditions, and undermines the stability necessary for a consistent treatment regimen. And

Our Donation Drive Poster, designed by team member Eric

Our Donation Drive Poster, designed by team member Eric

the number of those affected by the intersection of HIV and homelessness is alarming. Approximately 4 percent of the homeless population of the United States is believed to be HIV-positive, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that 50 percent of the 1.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States are at risk of becoming homeless. The severity of homelessness in the HIV community is very real.

Team Chicago’s members are grateful to be placed at agencies aware that housing IS healthcare and that homelessness is a critical issue for the HIV/AIDS community. That is why, for our long term service project, we wanted to serve this cause and to benefit agencies providing housing opportunities to the HIV/AIDS community. We’ve decided to raise funds and supplies for the housing programs at The AIDS Foundation of Chicago and Chicago House and Social Services Agency, which collectively provide housing to over 800 people living with HIV/AIDS and their families.

Specifically, our fundraising efforts are focused on providing new home, cleaning, and hygiene supplies to newly housed HIV-positive clients. While government funds are more readily available for groceries and clothing vouchers, few dollars are earmarked for these everyday essentials that are part of a healthy life and home. It is our hope that, through gathering these supplies and funds, we can help our agencies provide the stability and environments necessary for our clients to live full, healthy lives.

Supplies collected at one of our sites, Bonaventure House

Supplies collected at one of our sites, Bonaventure House

Our team has planned a series of fundraisers over the next several weeks, but for AmeriCorps’ “Healthy Futures Month,” we decided to host a donation drive at our area agencies. Through posters, social media, email blasts, and word of mouth, we encouraged employees of our host agencies to bring in hygiene and cleaning supplies to benefit our clients. Check out the photo to see some of our spoils!