Moveable Feast Inc., the agency delivering meals to low-income people with HIV or AIDS, is getting busier -- and its officials see their growing clientele as a window to the wider community grappling with the disease.
They note that people are living longer with the disease, women infected with the virus are turning up in increasing numbers, drug abuse is overwhelmingly the source of the epidemic, and their clients are largely African-American.
"The AIDS/HIV epidemic has not subsided, although a lot of people think it has," said Moveable Feast's board president, bond analyst Eric Misenheimer. "AIDS is a more manageable disease, but it's still life-threatening and people are still dying from it."
The only area agency preparing and delivering free daily meals, Moveable Feast served hot food regularly last year to 284 homebound people. A once-a-week food service added March 1 for people who can get around but not work full time has swelled the number of clients to almost 400.
"The new service is primarily because people are getting better, living longer and can get out of the house more," said James Williams, executive director. He noted use of protease inhibitors -- new and powerful AIDS-fighting drugs -- as a major factor.
"We prepare five frozen meals and a bag of groceries and deliver them once a week," he said of the new service. "But many other people can't leave home. We still bring them the hot balanced meals every day."
Reflecting the increase in HIV-positive women, the agency has begun delivering meals to two drop-in centers serving affected women: Sisters Together and Reaching at 1429 McCulloh St., and You Are Never Alone, which helps prostitutes, at 1933 W. Pratt St.
For several years, it has given food to Health Education Resource Organization Inc., the oldest area group helping people with AIDS and helping mostly men.
Richard M. Kelly, HIV/AIDS program administrator for the Baltimore City Health Department who has praised Moveable Feast's work since Williams took over in July 1996, said, "The total number of HIV and AIDS cases in the area is on a plateau and may be declining slightly."
3,791 cases in Baltimore
He noted men being more careful in sexual practices as the major reason for a possible decline, but substance abuse as the dominant source of new cases.
Kelly said 3,791 diagnosed AIDS cases have been reported in Baltimore, but no one knows how many people carry the human immunodeficiency virus. Many people who are HIV-infected don't realize it and might live as long as 10 or 15 years before having noticeable symptoms. Specialists guess they are four times the number of patients diagnosed with acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Reports of new cases of AIDS in Baltimore have declined in recent years, said Dr. David Rose, the city Health Department's assistant commissioner for preventive medicine and epidemiology.
There were 1,097 AIDS cases diagnosed between February 1995 and January 1996; 978 in the next 12 months; and 510 cases from February 1997 to January 1998. Since the city began keeping records of diagnosed AIDS cases in 1981, 5,304 people have died of the disease.
The state health department's AIDS Administration, in a report March 20, said, "One of the key emerging trends is how the face of AIDS is changing, with growing numbers of women, adolescents, families and seniors affected."
Among other trends, it noted "decreased public interest in the subject of AIDS."
Trend of epidemic
Williams said Moveable Feast delivered hot meals to the homes of 255 people in Baltimore and Baltimore County, while the once-a-week packages were delivered to 135 people in the other four metropolitan counties and Queen Anne's County.
"I think our client profile reflects the trend of the epidemic nationwide," Williams said.
Of the low-income clients in Baltimore, 58 percent are male and 42 percent female. The ratio is similar in surrounding counties. In the city, 91 percent are African-American, and most of the rest are white. In the counties, 68 percent are African-American and 27 percent white.
The budget of the agency, at 3401 Old York Road, has grown about 30 percent in each of the past three years, to $925,000.
About 65 percent is from the federal government -- the largest part is funds from the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency Act. As a teen-ager with AIDS, White galvanized national interest by his fight for life. He died in 1990 in Indianapolis.
Moveable Feast has a staff of 15, relies on 25 to 50 volunteers a week, and has a fleet of four delivery vans whose drivers try to comfort the afflicted.
"The drivers deliver more than the meal," Williams said.
He reported these developments at Moveable Feast:
Angela Slitzer, HIV dietitian/nutritionist, and Jeff Falk, client services director, were hired to better serve the complicated therapies of individual cases.
Negotiations have taken place to expand its food services this year beyond HIV/AIDS clients -- for instance, to reach needy children in Baltimore.