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Expanding the Reach of a Loving Spoonful

Originally the first program in Canada to provide free nutritious food to people living with HIV/AIDS, the non-profit organization now serves up 250,000 healthy meals annually to those living with a life-threatening illness.

Rebecca Bollwitt

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One of the largest commercial kitchens in Vancouver recently opened in the Downtown Eastside, a venture that A Loving Spoonful had in the works for the last two years. 

“We’ve been around for 34 years and started off as primarily an HIV/AIDS organization,” says Executive Director Lisa Martella. “We got our licence to open the commercial kitchen in October, on my 15th anniversary with A Loving Spoonful, and I was so excited, I was in tears.”

The project, which took two years to complete, now gives the non-profit organization 5,000 square feet of space at 461 Powell St. to expand its programs. This is in addition to the storefront space at 1449 Powell St. 

“It’s a very progressive step. We’ll be able to help even more people and get even better meals to our people living with HIV and coexisting illness,” Martella says. The organization was founded in 1989.  

The organization was founded in 1989 by Easter Armas, who was determined that no one living with AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) should also live with hunger. Starting out as the Vancouver Meals Society, it hosted events aimed to diminish the isolation felt by people with AIDS by providing food, community and comfort. 

Officially becoming A Loving Spoonful in 1989, it was the first program in Canada to provide meals at no cost for people living with HIV/AIDS. Today, it provides 250,000 free, healthy and nutritious meals to people living with a life-threatening illness, including HIV/ AIDS, in Metro Vancouver each year. 

“What we’ve seen in recent years is more seniors,” says Martella, “folks that have been able to live with HIV, and do well. However, the cost of food is so high now and so you’ve got people dealing with an illness or co-existing illness — maybe they have HIV and something else going on — which all makes accessing food very challenging. The need for our organization and our HIV program is still very strong.”  

A Loving Spoonful’s services include a Daily Meals Program, Family Pantry Program, Emergency Services Program, Community Support Meal Program, Pre-Natal Program and MAT Program (distribution of frozen and hot meals through a partnership with the Downtown Community Health Centre).

Martella says that there are still challenges, particularly with rising food costs, which make it difficult to plan out their offerings, for example, when the price of proteins fluctuates from one week to the next.

“It’s very hard to program your production and see how many meals you can get out of those products. Very challenging times all around. Five cents or 50 cents can make a big difference in overall production for the year.” 

When COVID-19 hit, A Loving Spoonful started working with Vancouver Coastal Health and BC Housing around supplying meals to people isolating who are COVID-positive.  

“Our meals were going over really well with people, and of course we know that a lot of the soup kitchens and things like that were closed at that time, so frozen meals were the way to go.” The program’s frozen food model, and options, gives people a chance to feel more empowered as well.

“You can eat what you want, when you want, which I think is lovely for folks. There might be a day you don’t feel like roasted chicken and potatoes, so maybe you’re into butter chicken that day, and you have that option with us.” With the health and housing partnerships, they realized that their meals were making a significant impact in the community beyond HIV.

“We were able to expand and help other vulnerable populations. I think we’re in a great place for that, we’re a very stable organization, and it’s what we’re been doing for years, and we’re good at it!

How it works 

If you’re somebody who is HIV-positive you get a referral form from a doctor, dietician or social worker. A Loving Spoonful’s team gives you a call or does an intake in-person, depending on mobility or health. From there, the organization coordinates a volunteer driver and each week your meals are delivered to where you’re living. 

Clients receive seven frozen meals, along with a snack pack with produce, milk and other snacks that are on hand or have been donated. 

There’s a volunteer dietician who lets the meal team know they’re on the right track with the amount of proteins, vegetables and starches. They’re also able to provide diabetic meals, low-sodium meals, vegetarian, high-protein, dairy-free and easy-chew meal options.

 “Our staff plans out the meals and an impressive fact is that at any moment, we have over 11,000 meals frozen in stock available in our freezer here,” says Martella. “It’s quite nice because we’re always ahead of schedule, we’ve got lots of inventory — especially if we run into any emergency situations.” 

Martella recalls a situation where A Loving Spoonful received a call about a building fire in Vancouver and they needed meals for those who were displaced. “We could absolutely help out with it, so we have the ability to do all these kinds of wonderful things to help the community.

How you can support their efforts 

A Loving Spoonful receives 20 per cent of their funding from the government, which means they are responsible for the other 80 per cent of their operating budget. They recently improved their online donation system, which makes it even easier to make contributions and also receive an instant tax receipt. You can also donate your time as a volunteer, or give gifts in-kind.

“Our donations are probably the lowest that I’ve seen in the last 15 years I’ve been here,” Martella says. “The high cost of food, high cost of living, high cost of rent… people don’t have as much disposable income.” 

The organization has one popular campaign that has become a Valentine’s tradition for many friends and family members over the last decade. The annual CandyGram campaign adds an element of surprise and fun to your contribution or donation. 

“It’s a throwback to when we were all in grade school/ high school and you could send a CandyGram to someone’s homeroom,” says Martella. “This is the adult version of that. For $10, which is a great price, we cover the postage, and we will mail a physical CandyGram anywhere in Canada for you.”

The special delivery includes a McDonald’s Big Mac coupon that can be used anywhere in Canada, some treats and goodies, and also a message which you can select from about 150 options — for like, love, or lust! 

According to the website, “CandyGrams can be sent to your: husband, wife, friends, brother, sister, co-worker, teacher, boyfriend, girlfriend or crush… the possibilities are endless. Be anonymous or tell them who you are, it’s up to you!” And they do sell out. 

Martella says that most people who buy CandyGrams do make an additional donation. “Which is nice. If we reach our goal of $40,000, it would cover over 8,000 meals that we can distribute for our HIV program here at A Loving Spoonful,” she says.

Filed under: Heartbeats

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Rebecca Bollwitt

Rebecca Bollwitt


Rebecca Bollwitt has been writing about events and travel in B.C. since 2004 on the multi-award-winning blog Miss604.com. With 25 years of digital publishing experience, she has co-authored and technically edited five books on the subject, and founded her own agency which assists clients across North America with their social media strategies and website development. Community is at the heart of her mission, and Rebecca partners with and sponsors campaigns for more than 20 charities each year. She also serves as a board executive for two local non-profit organizations.

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