There are days when Thomas Patrick can tell that Dorothy, 43, a grandmother who suffers with AIDS, is feeling worse than on other days and that brings tears to his eyes.
Routinely, Patrick, a worker with Moveable Feast, a program that delivers prepared meals to homebound city residents with AIDS, hugs the northwest Baltimore woman after he delivers her meal and offers words of encouragement.
To Dorothy, the brief conversation is almost as important as the food.
"They tell me that I have to eat a lot of pasta to keep my weight up," says Dorothy, a frail but remarkably upbeat woman whose body is slowly deteriorating.
"He brings pasta and I listen to him because he cares about me," says Dorothy, who asks that her last name not be used.
Moveable Feast, a non-profit organization, is the only charitable agency that delivers free meals to home-bound sufferers of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The clients are referrals from various health organizations.
But the thrice-weekly visits from Moveable Feast workers to Dorothy and other AIDS sufferers may end in January when the program runs out of money. For many of the patients, the meals are their only food and the workers their only visitors.
"I don't know what they would do without Moveable Feast," Patrick says. "We're it for many of them. We're the bottom line for many of them. I guess they'll starve to death."
Officials of Moveable Feast say the organization needs at least $4,000 a month to cover operating expenses, which would pay for the cost of preparing about 75 meals three times a week, rental of a church kitchen, salaries for four part-time employees and insurance.
Joseph Myers, one of the part-timers and executive director of Moveable Feast, has seen the number of clients increase in the organization's three-year existence. But Moveable Feast's operating budget has not grown.
"The number of meals varies because we feed the care-provider and dependent children," Myers says. "If [the provider] is sick, we feed all dependent children.
"The big problem right now is the economy. People who normally support us can't. The economy is putting the screws to us. It's us at the bottom of the ladder who suffer the most."
Much of the funding for Moveable Feast comes from grants and public and private organizations, Myers says. The Baltimore City Health Department gave Moveable Feast a $9,000 grant earlier this year. Each meal is estimated to cost about $5.
Myers says most of the staff members work many more hours than they are paid, and volunteers help daily in the preparation and delivery of food. Myers once went a month without pay.
The patients, Myers says, are "making do with the food that we bring them. They get large helpings and stretch it to make it last. Many AIDS patients just starve to death. We hope that doesn't happen."
Since 1981, 1,914 cases of AIDS have been reported in Baltimore, health officials say, and 1,181 of those affected have died.
Bettina L. Lee, a community health nurse, says AIDS patients have very specific nutritional needs.
"Weight loss is a problem. They need to maintain their weight. They need a high caloric diet with proteins and complex ZTC carbohydrates," Lee says.
Patrick says that during the two years he has worked with Movable Feast he has seen some of the patients he has served die.
"I get so mad when I think that we're it for a lot of them," he says. "We might be the only ones who know that they're HIV positive. We're total strangers who have just come into their lives. A lot of times they can't tell their parents, their families or anybody else."
William Morrison, 34, who lives alone on Port Street in East Baltimore and who contracted AIDS three years ago, says there are many days when he has only a few hours of strength and is unable to cook.
"I rely on [volunteers] to do my cooking," Morrison says. "I . . . am very restricted and have to rest a lot. I do that for the sake of staying alive longer. . . . I thank God for them."
As for Dorothy, who was recently hospitalized for pneumonia, the loss of Moveable Feast means losing what little contact she has with the outside world. "When I was real sick, they comforted me," she says. "They gave me a little hug. That brings my spirits up. If Moveable Feast doesn't help us, some of us is going to get real sick."