Bob : Hi Lisa. Thanks for agreeing to talk to PositiveLite.com. I want to talk to you about the work of A Loving Spoonful because it sounds quite amazing. But before that I want to tell you that I’m loving that flash mob video of yours. (We’re also posting it below). Do you want to tell me about it? Is a flash mob a hard thing to pull off?
Lisa: It was our first ever flash mob and we were so excited, to be honest it was hard to keep that one a secret! A tremendous amount of work went into the flash mob and we really couldn't have done it without choreographer extraordinaire Tyrell Witherspoon and of course all the kids from Strathcona Elementary who practiced their little hearts out since November. Some of the kids told us it was the best day of their lives and we were so touched. Having it in the middle of Pacific Centre Food Court during lunch hour was also part of our plan, and the look on people's faces was absolutely priceless. It was also really neat to see everyone holding their iphones and filming the flash mob. What will we do next? Can't tell you....it's a secret!
Bob: OK. Some of us are gay here. Who’s the cute guy in the middle – and is he single?
Lisa: Everyone is asking me about the cutie in the video! It is none other than Tyrell Witherspoon who choreographed the video....and yes he also dances....and yes he also sings. Next I'll be auctioning him off to raise more funds!! For those of you who want to know more or stalk him you can find him at www.tyrellwitherspoon.com.
Bob: And of course it’s in aid of CandyGram. Now that’s a concept new to me. You’ll have to explain how it works
Lisa: The CandyGram Campaign is a concept I came up with about a year ago to help support our programs. I was hearing people say that there were so many events to attend and it was simply one gala or another . I thought maybe there is a creative and fun way to engage people effectively using of course our favourite social media tools, Facebook and Twitter; and from there the idea of CandyGrams was born. The first step is to go to candygram.ca to order. There people will find 150 messages to choose from in the categories of Like, Love or Lust. Senders can select a friendly, flirty or frisky message and they can include their name, or send it as an anonymous secret admirer. They can be sent to anyone: friends, partners, husbands, wives, colleagues, and children. The possibilities are endless and the best part is we do all the assembly and mail in for you anywhere in Canada. For just $10 they include: A special edition card, your unique message, two delicious Purdy's chocolates, a Yelpstick lip balm and Shamin Jewellers 'Perfect Kiss' mints and $15 in store or online gift card. The value is over $25 thanks to the generosity of our sponsors.
Bob: We’ll provide links to the CandyGram website at the end of this interview too. Now I want to talk about your work. I see from the A Loving Spoonful website that you deliver 100,000 frozen meals a year to people living with HIV in need. That’s quite staggering. I’m curious about the logistics of that. First tell me about the food. Where does it come from, who prepares it, etc?
Lisa: Our food comes from a company named Apetito. They provide all of our frozen meals which are delivered straight to our warehouse. The meal selection is actually very good. We have over 40 delicious meals to choose from and everything is free of charge to our clients.
Bob: Lisa, tell me about some of your programs.
Lisa: We have several different programs here at A Loving Spoonful. In addition to delivering frozen meals to our clients we also have a new Youth Program called Hot Meals for Homeless Youth. We deliver hot, ready to eat meals to a partner agency where youth can eat in a congregate meal setting and access their other services. We also have a Prenatal Program where high risk HIV positive women can receive extra nutritional counselling along with an extended service period. As their needs change throughout their pregnancy we work with them to ensure their nutritional needs and preferences are being met. For instance frozen meals might be more appropriate around the time of birth while groceries might be more suitable during the months leading up to child birth. Typically 3 months after child birth the mother is able to transition onto the Family Pantry Program. Another wonderful program of ours is the Emergency Service Program where our Dietician or Director of Client Services receive a referral for a patient in a hospital that is soon to be released. Our staff will go to the hospital and meet with the individual to assess their needs. Once they are discharged from the hospital food will be delivered to their home on that very same day. We provide full nutritional support for up to 6 weeks and provide peace of mind so they don't have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. Named after our founder Easter Armas, we have a program called Easter Sundays. Once per month at a partner agency we serve a gourmet Sunday dinner for 50 HIV positive downtown eastside residents. Professional chefs volunteer their time to create a wonderful meal in a heart warming and inclusive environment.
Bob: And you must have a pretty sophisticated delivery system to get those meals to those who need them. How does that work?
Lisa: A Loving Spoonful has been around for over 21 years and we've almost got it down pat. Each week a dedicated group of volunteers come to A Loving Spoonful to pack and then distribute our meals and snack packs. Volunteer drivers generously use their own cars, gas and time to lend a hand to those in need. Our staff each week balance our volunteer resources to the particular needs of our clients to ensure everyone gets fed.
Bob: I’m curious. We in Ontario hear a lot about the homeless in Vancouver. Are you able to reach them too? I mean, they don’t have microwaves, right?
Lisa: We partner with ASO's who specialize in homeless and marginalized HIV positive clientele so that we are reaching as many people as possible. For example through the MAT Program (Maximally Assisted Therapy) run by the Pender Clinic in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside we deliver dozens of frozen meals each week that they in turn heat and distribute on an as needed basis. Our meals act as incentive to encourage their clients to come in and access their medications and other services.
It's great you asked about microwaves because we often find ourselves looking for some to redistribute to our clients on service. Just last month we used Twitter and Facebook to find several microwaves a new home.
Bob: What about nutrition, Lisa. That’s clearly important for people living with HIV and yet the meals have to be prepared on a budget. Tell me how you balance all that.
Lisa: Nutrition and nutrition counselling are such an important part of our service. We have a registered Dietician on staff who works very closely with our clients. Someone with HIV has a decreased immune system and requires much more nutrition than a healthy individual. People that are coming to us sometimes are facing serious food security issues, or require very specialized meal service. Our supplier Apetito does a great job in providing affordable, high quality and nutritious meals.
Bob: So a typical meal might be what?
Lisa: There is everything from Omelettes to Asian Glazed Salmon and Spaghetti and Meatballs. Also, we have a variety of meals to accommodate special dietary needs such as gluten free, low potassium and low sodium. We also have meals that are easy chew, minced or pureed. Our Dietician and Client Service Director work closely with our clients to develop a suitable meal plan. Inside our snack packs you will find: milk, chocolate milk, fruits, bread, yogurt and other nutritious items.
Bob: What kinds of feedback do you get on the services you provide? I’m thinking of whether clients like the meals but more broadly too, are you able to learn how you are making a difference to individual lives.
Lisa: We continually receive feed back and do ongoing assessments of our services. Our clients absolutely love the meals and can't say enough about the large selection and variety. We know that for many, A Loving Spoonful has changed their lives. Because our food is delivered by the same volunteers each and every week a relationship forms and can break the cycle of isolation. We know that our clients are gaining weight, improving their health and will on occasion offer to stop service because they no longer need it.
Bob: I’m not sure if this is on your agenda or not, but do you encourage self sufficiency in any way, so that your clients can – say - learn to cook for themselves, if they have the resources, or perhaps learn nutrition?
Lisa: We encourage self sufficiency for all of our clients and provide many resources while they are on service and once they have completed service. Most recently we launched our first ever nutritional newsletter. For our Family Pantry Program we provide a food hamper with pantry basics as well as fruits and vegetables. Our Dietician will feature one item in the newsletter and provide recipes and information in a fun and educational way that coincides with the food hamper that week.
Bob: It looks like you work closely with local ASOs. I’m assuming they are the ones that provide the bulk of your referrals, right?
Lisa: We work very closely with other local ASO's. Our referrals come from not only HIV doctors but street nurses, dieticians and social workers in the community. There is also an opportunity for self referral where individuals can simply call our office to gather more information.
Bob: You rely principally on donations for funding rather than government support. That’s great that the private sector is so generous but don’t you think you deserve more from the government? I’m thinking for instance that ASOs receive much more government support, no?
Lisa: We do receive some government funding but realize that we need to also get out there and fundraise to support our various programs. We have a tremendous amount of community support and encouragement, just take a look at our Facebook page! Even though we serve about 100,000 meals a year we are still a grass roots charity at heart. We receive funding from Foundations such as the MAC AIDS Fund as well as the Shooting Stars Foundation and Fillmore Family Foundation. Much of our funds are raised through our signature events and new initiatives such as CandyGrams. We strive to be a self sustaining organization.
Bob: Tell me about yourself. What’s your background?
Lisa: I have been involved in the non profit sector for over 18 years. I really had to think about that one, it's been a long time. Prior to A Loving Spoonful I was the Associate Director of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society where I learned a lot about food security, community kitchens and saw first hand how many people and families in various parts of Metro Vancouver needed help. I came to A Loving Spoonful in 2008 and could not wait to be a part of this incredible and passionate organization. Hmmm...what else? I have two rescued cats named Shadow and Tango and a husband named Paul. They are all quite adorable!
Bob: The work must be incredibly rewarding. Do you get to meet many of your clients yourself? Would you like to do more of that?
Lisa: This work is incredibly rewarding and there is always so much more to be done. We aim for excellence and really do provide that on a daily basis. One of the things I am most proud of is the client care we provide. When a client comes into our office on occasion for a review or meeting, everyone makes a point to say "hello" and make the person feel welcomed. They are not just a client, they are "Steve" or "Mike" or "Nancy". I of course get to meet many of our clients and I am always so happy that they are so comfortable trusting us with their stories and feelings. It helps us better understand their situation and what they might be going through. I'll never forget one of our past clients David who told me about how A Loving Spoonful saved his life. He had nowhere to turn and no family or friends that could help him out. He also ended up suffering from a stroke which brought his spirits down even more. He told me about how he looked forward to seeing the volunteer every week who was delivering his food. He knew that he was not alone. He also reminded me about how delicious the meals were. David still keeps in touch and stops by once in a while. I know he feels lucky to have received our service but I am the lucky one to have learned from him.
Bob: Anything on the horizon for A Loving Spoonful?
Lisa: In the next year or so we have to find a new home. It would be amazing if we can have a kitchen facility and offer a community kitchen program or simply be able to make some of our own meals like soups or chillies.
Bob: Tell me - if you could wave a magic wand what would you want for A Loving Spoonful?
Lisa: This is an easy one...I wish there was a cure for HIV/AIDS and then there would be no A Loving Spoonful.
Bob: Thanks Lisa. That’s a good note to end on. You do amazing work here and we are so happy that we are able to talk about it with you. And good luck with CandyGrams!
Lisa: Thank you so much.
A Loving Spoonful website: http://www.alovingspoonful.org/
Candygram website http://www.alovingspoonful.org/candygram/
A Loving Spoonful
100 - 1300 Richards Street, Vancouver BC V6B 3G6
604 682 6325 (phone) 604 682 6327 (fax)