Through Food Outreach’s nutritional support, 2,000 local low-income residents facing HIV/AIDS and cancer are living happier, healthier lives.

The organization’s dietary support, which is specific to the individual and the stage of illness, has helped clients become more responsive to treatment and avoid medication side effects to live longer. “Our clients need proper nutrition to maintain strength, rebuild damaged tissue and replenish nutrients,” notes executive director Greg Lukeman.

Founded in 1988 by a group caring for friends with HIV/AIDS, Food Outreach expanded in 2006 to include people battling cancer. Lukeman took action through the organization after several of his friends contracted HIV in the late 1980s. Next, the organization may branch out to serving residents dealing with diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis, Lukeman adds.

Every day, Food Outreach’s staff and 600 volunteers ensure each client receives two meals. The group preps lunches and dinners and packs frozen food for delivery to clients who are homebound due to severe illness or lack of transportation. The organization’s Monday Lunch Program is a special treat for clients, who are served a three-course, restaurant- style meal in the establishment’s dining room, complete with white tablecloths and fine dinnerware. Food Outreach annually serves 500,000 meals to individuals, ranging from toddlers to elderly adults in the St. Louis area, as well as in Granite City, Ill., through its partnership with Madison County AIDS Program. Since its inception, it has provided more than 4.5 million meals to 11,000 clients.

In addition, Food Outreach’s registered dietitians provide routine consultations and lead nutrition classes for clients and their families. The courses focus on exercise and its relationship to nutrition, reading labels on groceries and how food can combat certain side effects of current HIV/AIDS medications and cancer treatments. “Some medications require certain foods to work,” Lukeman notes. To offer further assistance, Food Outreach has partnered with Schnucks to provide specialty pharmacists to help new clients with general health and treatment issues.

The organization has become a lifeline for many residents, some of whom are homeless and others who are living in poverty. Lukeman says Food Outreach’s assistance allows clients to return to the work and community activities they previously enjoyed in their everyday lives. “Clients who were truly home-bound now pride themselves on coming in and being social and active out in the community,” he says.

For a homeless, out-of-work, 55-year-old African American man with HIV, the organization’s food is what keeps him going. “No matter how bad I was feeling, if I just managed to get to Food Outreach, I stopped thinking about having AIDS and forgot about my pain.” A local 57-year-old woman suffering from breast cancer, which spread to her bones, liver and pancreas before she came to Food Outreach, credited the organization with saving her life. “It is the food and caring that gets me through this.”

Food Outreach is supported in part by fundraising events. In April 2013, the charity will celebrate the 25th year of its signature event—A Tasteful Affair. The event will feature food from dozens of caterers and restaurants, cooking demonstrations and silent and live auctions. This year, the event grew to 1,500 attendees and $200,000 in fundraising. Food Outreach also recently added The Main Ingredient, an event to honor four active volunteers: a corporation, a foundation, an individual and a human service volunteer.

Volunteer: Denise Phelabaum-Evans

For most clients, Food Outreach is “lifesaving nutrition”—an important cause that has kept Denise Phelabaum-Evans volunteering throughout the organization’s 24-year history.

The charity’s full slate of services—dietitian-approved nutritional meals for HIV/AIDS and cancer patients—make it unique to the St. Louis area, she says. “The idea of helping feed people is something we can all relate to, and it really resonated with me and with my family.” So much so that Phelabaum-Evans recently became a board member and her family has not only volunteered, but helped recruit more residents from local schools and churches to aid the organization through donations and fundraising. For example, when Phelabaum- Evans’ son—a Chaminade College Preparatory student—asked his friends to bring canned food rather than presents to his birthday party, it sparked significant donations and a service partnership between Food Outreach and the school.

At the charity, Phelabaum-Evans is among 600 volunteers who prepare and pack meals, work to fill client orders in the on-site grocery store and run fundraising events, such as the organization’s signature event, A Tasteful Affair. “It’s tremendously fulfilling to work with an organization that makes such a vital impact on the community,” she says.

Because of dedicated volunteers like Phelabaum- Evans, Food Outreach has continued to grow in proportion to its expanding client base. She notes: “In 24 years, Food Outreach has never turned away a client.”