Friday, May 24, 2013 5:08 AM
Published on: Friday, December 07, 2012
By Tauren Dyson
The holiday season usually brings to mind family gatherings, gifts and eating great food.
However, finding healthy meals remains a challenge for many people in Prince George’s County with life-threatening illnesses. That’s where Food and Friends in the District of Columbia comes in. The organization prepares and delivers meals to people with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
The program prepares and delivers 3,784 meals each day and serves more than 2,800 clients — 25 percent of whom live in Prince George’s.
Although Food and Friends doesn’t use financial means testing for the homes it delivers to, most of the neighborhoods served within the county are low-income areas that sit along the D.C. line.
To help in the effort, Food and Friends has an estimated 12,600 volunteers each year, and the Wednesday before this past Thanksgiving, they had a special guest.
“I think they do such a great job here at Food and Friends,” County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said. “This is a critical need, and we’re just glad to be here.”
According to Baker, Prince George’s gives $175,000 to Food and Friends, while the program spends $2 million annually. Food and Friends also receives funds through various government grants and corporate donations.
But finding volunteer drivers is often the big challenge. Making sure the volunteers can navigate Prince George’s is sometimes an even tougher task. Many of the people who deliver food for the program live outside the county, which makes it difficult to find the homes.
“We’re going to be sending people out to Prince George’s County who’ve rarely left the state of Virginia,” said Craig Shniderman, Food and Friends executive director. “Someone gets lost on the way here … they’re wandering around in Upper Marlboro … that can be a challenge.”
To thwart that problem, Shniderman has volunteers on standby with walkie-talkies to redirect drivers to the right location.
The Food and Friends headquarters in Northeast D.C. is a short five-minute drive from Prince George’s County’s District 1. County Councilwoman Mary Lehman represents that district and popped up to lend a hand at Food and Friends for the holiday season.
As she wrapped up turkeys, she said, I plan on coming back every year, it’s such a great experience.”
Behind Baltimore City, Prince George’s is usually second in the state in HIV/AIDS occurrences. So the need for volunteers to service the county is invaluable.
Even with all the volunteers that come to Food and Friends, the organization is always in need of more help. With a harsh winter forecast ahead, Shniderman is always on the lookout for new volunteers should an emergency arise that requires extra human resources.
“Food and Friends will be on the road when it’s not 60 degrees but it’s six degrees,” Shniderman said. “So the Thanksgiving experience is uplifting, but it’s also preparatory for the work that follows during what may be a challenging winter.”