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Groceries To Gomaking a difference to AIDS patients

November 04, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Groceries To Go is making a big difference in the lives of dozens of people living with HIV/AIDS in Washington County and other parts of Western Maryland.

But as organizer Robert L. Griffin is quick to point out, it's more than just food, it's regular contact with people who care.

"We began providing this here about three years ago after learning of the Food & Friends program in Washington, D.C.," Griffin said. "We wondered, why couldn't we have our own program like that?"

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So Griffin and members of the New Light Metropolitan Community Church he pastors at 40 W. Church St. took the plunge, establishing a satellite pantry here.

Depending on contributions and donations, the local Groceries To Go program was just awarded a $50,000 grant through Food & Friends specifically for Washington County.

"This will really help us with our 30 to 35 clients," Griffin said. Most are in Washington County but a few live in Allegany County, he said.

The volunteers arrive at the church each Saturday morning to load up with the bags of groceries to deliver to their clients. The very specialized orders arrive in Hagerstown from Washington, D.C., on Tuesdays and are stored at the church until delivery day.

"We have a partnership with the Department of Social Services and Washington County Health Department to refer clients to us," Griffin said.

The only criterion necessary for clients to qualify for the Groceries To Go program is a T-Cell count of less than 200, Griffin said. That refers to the client's immune system, which is affected by being HIV-positive or having AIDS.

Unlike many food giveaway efforts, Groceries To Go works closely with nutritionists who tailor each weekly delivery of two bags of groceries and frozen entres with each client's specific needs, Griffin said.

"Some clients can tolerate only certain kinds of foods and milk and that is often because of the effects of medications," Griffin said.

Clients range from very young to very old, some gay, some straight, mothers with children - folks from all walks of life. In all cases, confidentiality is maintained, Griffin said.

"Our volunteers get very close to their clients," Griffin said. "They have made a big difference in a lot of people's lives."

On Thanksgiving, the volunteers will deliver a big turkey dinner two days before the holiday - enough to feed four people. And at Christmas, extra holiday food will be part of the deliveries, Griffin said.

The latest grant came from the Philip Morris Co., which in 1996 first assisted Food & Friends with launching Groceries To Go to serve the outlying delivery areas of D.C. The firm has since donated $589,975 to the program.

The grant money is especially appreciated, Griffin said, because Washington County falls between two metropolitan areas eligible for the federally funded Ryan White Care Act, and is not eligible for federal funding.

This also restricts Food & Friends from being reimbursed for the cost of providing services like Groceries To Go, forcing all Washington County programs to be funded through grants and other private funding.

The cost of serving one client in Washington County for six months is $2,586.24.

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