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AIDS Groups Expand Services to Other Sufferers

Diversifying Brings Funds and Complaints

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 27, 2004; Page B01

Maritza Sanson, a pixyish woman with a cap of soft brown curls, broke into a wide smile on a recent afternoon when a Food & Friends volunteer showed up at her D.C. home with the daily delivery of food.

On today's menu: bagels and cream cheese for Sanson, 42, and her husband, Luis Fernando Hurtado, 47, as well as fruit salad, fish sandwiches, green beans and potatoes.

Maritza Sanson, who is recovering from breast cancer, places the meal delivery from Food & Friends into the refrigerator. With her is husband Luis Fernando Hurtado. (Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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"This is fantastic," Sanson said, as she unpacked the containers and stowed them in her small refrigerator.

Just a few years ago, Sanson, who is recovering from breast cancer, would not have been able to receive free food delivery from Food & Friends. The District organization had provided daily meals since 1988 only to those incapacitated by HIV/AIDS in the Washington area.

But in 2000, Food & Friends began providing six-day-a-week food delivery and groceries to those with other life-threatening diseases, such as Parkinson's, cancer and Alzheimer's.

Across the country, more and more AIDS organizations that have provided food, housing, legal aid, medical treatment and other help to those infected with HIV/AIDS are diversifying.

But the expansion has drawn concerns from those who note that 40,000 new HIV infections occur annually in the United States and that 18,000 people a year die of AIDS. They say that those afflicted by HIV/AIDS will be shunted aside in the rush to diversify.

"The epidemic is not over," said Michael Petrelis, a San Francisco AIDS activist. By diversifying, "it seems like they're spreading themselves way too thin, especially since [AIDS] funding levels are down."

Kandy Ferree, president of the National AIDS Fund, which helps finance about 400 community AIDS groups, said she is concerned that some AIDS groups may expand into fields where they aren't as qualified just to get more funding.

"It is absolutely critical that organizations . . . not chase dollars for the sake of chasing dollars," Ferree said. "It's very dangerous."

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