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AIDS Groups Expand Services to Other Sufferers

But the AIDS groups that are diversifying say reduced AIDS funding and fading interest in AIDS causes among donors are forcing them to seek other income sources. In addition, AIDS groups say, they have a moral imperative to share expertise developed during two decades of caring for seriously ill AIDS patients.

"If we've created a service that's needed by people who are sick, then we should do what we can to expand to meet their needs," said Stephen Woods, executive director of Project Open Hand in Atlanta. "Just because we responded to a crisis at one point in time [doesn't make it] necessary to focus only on one population."

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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For Food & Friends, the result has been a dramatic change in one of the largest AIDS organizations in the country. These days, 40 percent of people who receive food from the group suffer from other illnesses.

Food & Friends' leader says the organization had to expand its clientele to remain alive in an era when AIDS funding is shrinking, the AIDS death rate has fallen and those infected with HIV are living longer.

"If one depended solely upon funds that are restricted to persons with AIDS, I think there is a serious question of whether we could survive," said Food & Friends Executive Director Craig Sniderman.

In Texas, AIDS Foundation Houston now offers housing, substance-abuse treatment and other help to people suffering from other infectious diseases and diabetes. The Latino Commission on AIDS in New York is helping Latino immigrants not afflicted with AIDS apply for asylum. Project Open Hand, which formerly delivered food just to AIDS patients, now also manages eight senior centers and delivers food to the elderly.

"It's definitely very much a trend in the field," said Frank Abdale, executive director of the Association of Nutrition Service Agencies, a national organization of 120 AIDS groups. Abdale said that all of his association's large members have expanded beyond AIDS.

AIDS groups have also turned their attention abroad, offering clinics, drug treatment and other services to combat the international AIDS epidemic. For some groups, diversifying has had a dramatic impact.

Miracle House, a 14-year-old charity in New York that started out offering temporary housing to out-of-town caretakers of hospitalized AIDS patients, has had its proportion of AIDS patients fall to just 10 percent of its clientele since it opened to those with other ailments and their caretakers.

Miracle House Executive Director Gilles Mesrobian said the organization broadened its mission after noticing that demand was falling because fewer AIDS patients were being hospitalized for long periods.

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