‘Food is medicine here’: Food & Friends prepares Thanksgiving meals for neighbors with life-challenging illnesses

The secret ingredients in thousands of traditional Thanksgiving feasts this year include compassion and generosity — Food & Friends prepared and delivered 4,500 complete holiday meals for people living with life-challenging illnesses.

“We often say food is medicine here,” said Carrie Stoltzfus, executive director with the D.C.-based nonprofit that provides home-delivered medically-tailored meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. “Nutrition is really a big factor in managing your health.”

Long before sunrise on Thanksgiving Day, volunteers at the Food & Friends facility in Northeast D.C. were packaging feasts.

“The turkeys have been roasted and cooled, and they’re being wrapped in foil,” said Rasheed Abdurrahman, executive chef with Food & Friends. “The clients just need to pop it in the oven with the foil and it’ll be ready in 30 minutes.”

Of course, there’s more than just the turkey.

“Green beans, stuffing, sweet potatoes, collard greens, rolls, pies, squash soup,” said Stotzfus, counting the dishes on her fingers.

“Buttered corn, collard greens, and of course cranberry sauce,” continued Abdurrahman. “Gotta have cranberry sauce.”

Stoltzfus said all of the people who receive the meals in large blue Ikea bags have been referred by their medical providers: “We do not have an income requirement to be on this service — it’s a medical requirement.”

She said that some people are reluctant to ask for help.

“We do see that — we all want to maintain our autonomy, and needing help with food is hard, because food is so personal to us,” said Stoltzfus.

Abdurrahman said preparing a Thanksgiving meal is challenging, even in the best of times.

“Now, if you can imagine doing that while you’re living with cancer, or living with HIV, or heart disease, or renal failure, it would be a lot to ask,” he said.

 

Being able to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with loved ones can lighten the load for someone battling for their health.

“Thanksgiving brings its own joys and memories,” said Abdurrahman. “I think part of the healing process is also feeling good and knowing that people care about you, and you have support.”

Stoltzfus said many of the people receiving meals have never needed similar services before.

“It can be hard — we enter people’s lives when they’re going through a lot,” she said. “But, you know, we’re here for them.”

For the third year, Wegmans Food Markets has been the chief sponsor of the holiday event.

Since 1988, Food & Friends has delivered more than 28.7 million meals to 47,000 people.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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