A Palm Springs organization helps those with chronic illnesses safely receive proper nutrition during the pandemic
Since 1991, AAP – Food Samaritans has been providing nutritional support to improve the lives of low-income individuals living with HIV/AIDS. Five years ago, the organization extended this support to individuals living with other chronic illnesses as well.
Founded by the late Gloria Greene and Jeannette Rockefeller, the organization has its roots in offering meals at the backdoor of Greene’s restaurant, Gloria’s (and later, Two Glorias). From there, the founders discussed how they could have a consistent impact on those in need, crafting a monthly food voucher program that continues today.
Clients are thoroughly vetted before receiving vouchers. Those who wish to receive them must provide proof of income, residency and diagnosis annually. AAP – Food Samaritans also considers their bank statements, IRS returns as well as statements from landlords to ensure only those truly in need receive support. Clients are also required to agree to random drug testing for illegal substances. And clients must live within a 25-mile radius of Palm Springs.
Once a month, each client receives a voucher to use at Stater Bros. for $150.
“If you are hungry and you don’t have food in your stomach, you can have all the medical care available, but you won’t make it,” the organization’s co-executive director, Mark Anton, said. “Rather than going to a food bank, it gives them dignity and the ability to make the decisions themselves.”
Many clients who are living with HIV/AIDS have food restrictions, and being able to shop and make their own food choices improves their quality of life, according to Anton. Having vouchers allows them to select food that will not conflict with their medication and ensures they have access to healthy choices.
AAP – Food Samaritans is grassroots organization with only 1.5 employees and approximately 45 volunteers. Throughout the pandemic, volunteers have been assigned a number of clients to check up on. Volunteers call from their homes to ensure that clients have received their vouchers, check to see if they need assistance with their grocery shopping and follow up on their general well-being.
The organization is always looking for volunteers; anyone interested in assisting can inquire on their website.
AAP – Food Samaritans depends on private donations, community and local business support, grants and special events to fund its work. Since March, the organization had not been able to hold any in-person fundraising events, including its signature Evening Under the Stars event. Recently, the organization received a grant from the Riverside Nonprofit Assistance Fund and the Coachella Valley Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation.
“People have really stepped up to the plate, and its impressive,” Anton said. “We’ve cut back on a lot of things we would normally be doing in order to save money.”
The organization depends on this support to purchase the up to 500 food vouchers it supplies to clients monthly. Clients are deeply appreciative of this support. When The Auen Foundation stepped up to help the organization through the pandemic, 128 clients wrote heartfelt letters of thanks, expressing their appreciation. Often, the staff and volunteers of AAP – Food Samaritans are the clients’ closest thing to family, according to Anton.
Stater Bros. supports the organization by offering a 6% discount on the vouchers it purchases. This helps the organization stretch its dollars. However, AAP – Food Samaritans will continue to need help. Interested individuals who wish to donate $141 could sponsor one person’s groceries for a month.
“We are going to keep doing this until there is no longer a need,” Anton said. “We’re here to stay.”
For more information, visit aidsassistance.org.
The Inland Empire Community Foundation’s mission is to strengthen Inland Southern California through philanthropy. Learn more about them at iegives.org.