ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) -- A small food bank is making a large impact helping some fight a lengthy health battle.
Behind Kenilworth Presbyterian Church, in a small white building is Loving Food Resources food bank, focusing on helping folks with HIVAIDS. There are three longtime volunteers who have been there about thirty years.
For 29 years, Barbara Bell, a retired nurse, has made it her mission to help people live the life her friend could not.
“I had a friend who died of AIDS, back in the day when everybody was afraid,” Bell recalls. “He died in an ICU alone because he wouldn’t let my then-boyfriend in to be with him.”
“I always felt I wanted to do something for Bill, and, to me, this is the perfect fit,” she adds.
Bell says friend and fellow volunteer Betty Sharpless got her involved with Loving Food Resources.
In addition to serving HIV/AIDS patients, the food bank also helps people in home hospice, regardless of the diagnosis.
Bell is there every Wednesday, Saturday, and other days as needed to help serve the food bank's 225 clients.
“We make sure people are not stigmatized,” Bell explains. “They don’t have to make a choice between buying food and buying medicine and paying rent.”
Loving Food Resources Executive Director Brent Wyatt says having longtime volunteers like Bell, her friend Sharpless and another woman, Kay Butt, has been essential to surviving the pandemic.
“People like Barbara, Betty, Kay, our longer-term volunteers who have seen the agency grow, who know the history, and are very much a part of the fabric of who we are,” explains Wyatt.
He says as more people move to Asheville, their number of clients continues to grow.
“Even though HIV is no longer a death sentence, there is still a rise in cases,” he explains. “We see new referrals every month of newly diagnosed.”
“Whether they know it or not, they know someone who is HIV positive; one in 10 people,” adds Bell, when asked why people should help out the food bank, Wyatt says Bell has been vital with grant writing and helping train new volunteers.
But, Bell says her true love is the hands-on hard work, packing the perfect fit of food and personal care items to give her clients the best quality of life possible
“One of the joys for me is seeing clients who have been with us for 25, 26 years who are still living, relatively healthy, considering their disease, and we believe that’s because we’ve been able to help them,” she says.