There are times when William Morrison, who was diagnosed as having AIDS two years ago and suffers from partial paralysis, can't stand long enough to cook a hamburger. There are times when his $400-a-month budget won't stretch far enough for him to send out for food.
And there are days when the only person Morrison sees is one of the volunteers who come to his house with food each week. It is these times that Morrison, who lives alone in an East Baltimore row house, is most grateful for Moveable Feast, an 11-month-old Baltimore organization that delivers bountiful portions of heathful meals to AIDS patients who are homebound.
"Thank God for them," said Morrison, 33. He has been receiving the food twice a week since July. "The meals are helping," he said. "There are times when I can't stand up long, maybe to wash a few dishes, but not to make a whole meal. It relieves the stress knowing that I'm getting food coming in."
Moveable Feast, a private nonprofit organization, has recently signed a $3,000 contract with the Baltimore County Health Department to deliver meals to AIDS patients, and organizers are making plans to expand into Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Organizers are talking to health officials in Prince George's and Montgomery counties about the program and said they would like to open a kitchen in the Washington suburbs to deliver hot meals to AIDS patients there.
Throughout the region, food has become the latest weapon in the fight to help people with AIDS, of which there are 1,800 reported cases in the Washington area and 1,008 in Maryland. In Baltimore and the District, AIDS activists have found that protein-rich foods can boost the energy level -- and perhaps prolong the survival -- of people with the disease.
"We learned over the past year that we are providing a really vital service, making a difference in people's health and well-being," said Carla B. Gorrell, executive director of Food & Friends, an organization that delivers free meals to 60 AIDS patients, most of whom are in the District and some in Arlington, Alexandria, Bethesda and Silver Spring.
"Sometimes, this is the only food the people will see all day, and the only live person they see," Gorrell said.
Anthony Purvis, a frail 27-year-old who lives in East Baltimore, said that before he began getting the Moveable Feast portions, he ate potato chips and other junk food but often felt weak.
"I was tired, not taking care of myself," Purvis said. The meals "have really helped me out a great deal. It really boosts up my health and strength."
Recent studies have confirmed the role that nutritious meals play in the treatment of AIDS patients. A Columbia University study published late last year found that the deaths of many people who have AIDS are precipitated by malnutrition.
C. Wayne Callaway, a specialist in internal medicine and endocrinology at George Washington University and co-author of the study, said high-protein, low-fat meals, such as those provided by Moveable Feast and Food & Friends, will help AIDS patients maintain their lean body mass.
"This isn't a treatment for AIDS, it's a co-treatment," Callaway said. "If they feel better, they'll gain weight and have a better quality of life."
Moveable Feast founder Robert Mehl, who was diagnosed with AIDS five years ago, said he started the group because many people with AIDS live alone and the federal and state governments do not provide help for those who cannot cook for themselves.
Moveable Feast has on staff a gourmet cook who prepares meals designed to appeal, with fresh fruits, lean, seasoned meats and fresh vegetables. Some clients who can no longer absorb nutrients from food get a high-protein drink such as Sustacal to which fresh fruit is added.
"We make sure all the food is fresh, no canned," said Mehl, who operates Moveabe Feast out of the Heritage United Church of Christ in Northwest Baltimore.
The organization operates on a $54,000 budget raised through private sources -- they get no federal, state or local dollars. The city of Baltimore gives the group office space and a telephone at the city health department.
Moveable Feasts' 60 clients reflect the city's population of AIDS patients, most of whom are minorities. Some are gay white men, others are women who used contaminated needles for drugs or had sex with drug users, and their children.
One 43-year-old mother of five, whose pelvic bones pressed against a thin skirt she was wearing, said in an interview that she is short-winded from steroids used to treat the virus and cannot get out of a chair by herself.
The woman, whose condition was diagnosed in September, called the Moveable Feast meals "a big help, especially when the food runs low."