New program allows volunteers to provide meals, entertainment to clients one weekend a month
MCC OF GREATER DALLAS KICKS OFF PROGRAM JAN. 16
AIDS Interfaith Network’s new Saturday Night Live at the Daire Center meals program launches on Saturday, Jan. 16, with Metropolitan Community Church of Greater Dallas providing a Saturday night dinner for AIN clients.
Other Saturday Night Live dinner hosts already confirmed for the year are:
• OBOX Solutions
• The Jesuit School (two months)
• Pizza Hut
• Frito Lay EQUAL Group
• Sterling’s Bookkeeping and Tax Service (two months)
• The Art of Living International
• Grace United Methodist Church
• Dallas Voice
• Texas Instruments
Thom DeWitt, who with his husband Tim DeWitt owns the IT staffing and consulting company OBOX Solutions, said this week that when their company had the chance to become involved with the AIDS Interfaith Network, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make.
"AIDS Interfaith has a real grasp of what the needs are [in the HIV/AIDS community]," Thom DeWitt said. "They are very focused on the needs of their clients, and they do a whole lot with just a little."
OBOX was already a sponsor of AIN’s two largest annual fundraisers — The Bloomin Ball in April and The Great Gatsby Party in June — when AIN’s Director of Development Blake Peery approached them about participating in a new program the agency is launching in January.
And when the DeWitts heard about yet another program designed to help AIN stretch its "little" resources further to do even more for its clients, Thom DeWitt said, "It was a no-brainer for us. We said, ‘Sign us up!’"
What OBOX and several other companies and groups are signing up for is AIN’s new "Saturday Night Live" meals program designed to provide a Saturday night meal — plus entertainment — at least one weekend a month to AIN’s clients.
"Nutrition is paramount" for people with HIV/AIDS, who not only need a healthy diet to keep their bodies strong, but also often need to follow a strict schedule on when to eat and what to eat — or not eat — in conjunction with taking their HIV medications, explained Peery.
Many AIDS service organizations, including AIN, already have programs that provide at least one meal a day, during the work week, to people with HIV. What makes the new Saturday Night Live program different, Peery said, is that it provides a meal on the weekend.
It gives AIN a way to "partner with faith-based groups, companies, organizations and individuals who can volunteer on a weekend night and help provide a nutritious meal in a fun setting," Peery said.
Not only does it help the clients, he added, it does so without taking away from AIN’s already stretched-thin budget.
"Each partner donates the meal and brings in people to help serve it," Peery explained.
Steven Pace, AIN’s executive director, said that a weekend meals program is especially important to AIN’s clients, "half of whom are homeless or living in transitional housing. All of them don’t have the income to meet their needs.
"You wouldn’t think that hunger exists in this country, but it does. And these folks, especially, need the proper nutrition to parallel their medication schedules," Pace said, adding that the Saturday Night Live program will reach "about 500 different clients" over the course of the first year.
Pace said that few weekend meals programs exist for people with HIV/AIDS, and there are none that offer weekend evening meals. And AIN, he said, had the facilities to accommodate such a program but "not the budget to add more services." So having volunteers provide the food and serve it will "help bridge a gap and begin to meet a need that has been out there for years."
Although the nutritional aspect of the new program is a top priority, it has other benefits for AIN clients, both Pace and Peery said. "Anytime people in need see that someone really does care, everyone’s humanity is strengthened," Pace said. "It is hard enough to be living with HIV, but to do it without knowing others care means having no hope. This way, everyone benefits."
Peery called the program "a bridge of hope" for AIN’s clients. But, the two men said, it is a bridge that goes both ways. The new program will also meet a need for the volunteers who step up to provide a meal.
"This helps educate the community and the rest of the world," Pace said. "It reminds people that HIV is still out there, and that there are people in very dire need. And it’s a simple way to help; it won’t cost any one person a whole lot of money. It’s just a great way to make something great happen for people through the good will of others."
Peery said that a lot of the volunteer opportunities available at AIN — and other AIDS service organizations — happen during work hours, Monday through Friday. And that hampers many people’s chances to volunteer.
"A lot of our volunteers want to do something to help, and we are always pushing people to find ways to contribute. That isn’t always just writing a check, although we appreciate that, too" Pace said. "Attending an event or giving to an event is a great way to help, but it doesn’t put you in touch with the people you are helping the way this [program] will."
And Peery said that people — like the DeWitts and OBOX Solutions — jumped at the chance.
"Within 72 hours of making calls and telling people we would be doing this, we had 80 percent of the year booked," Peery said. "Everyone is so on board. It is pretty inspirational."
Jon Chester, owner of Sterling’s Bookkeeping and Tax Services, was one of those who jumped.
Sterling’s is already a sponsor of Bloomin’ Ball and the Great Gatsby party, Chester said, and when Peery contacted him about Saturday Night Live, "we were excited to step up and do this. No one should ever go hungry in this country."
Peery added that even though the one-Saturday-night-a-month schedule is already booked for 2010, others who want to participate are welcome.
"We are still accepting partners to bring in a second wave, to hold it more than one weekend a month," he said. "We’ve met our initial goal, so now we can circle back around and add some nights. If someone wants to participate, call us. We can make that happen."
For more information about Saturday Night Live or any of the other AIDS Interfaith Network programs, contact Blake Peery at 214-941-7696.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2009.