MANNA: Providing Nutritious Meals and a Sense of Community to People Living With HIV

Since 1990, MANNA has been providing nourishing meals and a sense of community to people living with HIV and other chronic diseases in Philadelphia.

With a mantra of “food is medicine,” MANNA is providing nourishing meals and a sense of community to people living with HIV and other chronic diseases.

The organization, dedicated to providing nutritional support during times of need, provides a week’s worth of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, to nearly 200 people living with HIV in Philadelphia. All meals, free of charge, are home-cooked in MANNA’s kitchen and delivered to each participant. Participants are put on the program for either 3 or 6 months, depending on their nutritional risk.

The Philadelphia-based organization’s origin goes back to 1990, when the program came into fruition in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church in order to aid the underserved HIV/AIDS population during the epidemic. “Initially, when we started, our mission was to provide comfort and dignity to those suffering and dying from the illness,” said Tonya Cooper-Markind, RD, LDN, nutrition and client services manager, MANNA, in an interview with The American Journal of Managed Care®.

At the time, the menu consisted of comfort foods, such as brownies and mac n’ cheese. However, as the years passed, and progress was made with antiretroviral therapy, people living with HIV began to have normal life expectancies, and MANNA began to look at new menu options.

The revamped menu includes medically appropriate meals to help those with short-term nutritional risk or acute nutritional risk, such as those with a recent HIV diagnosis, those who have lost a lot of weight, and those with low CD4 counts or high viral loads.

In 2006, MANNA expanded beyond HIV and now serves multiple serious illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, hepatitis C, and end-stage renal disease.

The program offers 11 different diet modifications for participants, such as low-lactose; no pork, beef, or seafood; low spice; and soft diet for those with poor dentition. For patients with recent weight loss, the program also offers a high calorie option that adds 7 protein shakes to the meals.

While providing those in the program with nutritious meals, MANNA is also improving health outcomes, lowering hospital utilization, and cutting costs. Participants experience improvements with their weight, lower hospitalization rates, and decreased viral loads as they increase medication adherence with food security. According to MANNA, their clients visit the hospital 50% less, and when staying in the hospital, their stay is 37% shorter. Their research, published in the Journal of Primary Care & Community Health, found that over the course of a year, MANNA clients accumulated an average of nearly $12,000 less in monthly medical expenses.

Expanding outreach outside of meal delivery, Cooper visits infectious disease clinics around Philadelphia to provide free nutritional counseling for patients. She also attends support groups throughout the city, providing members with hour-long discussions on different nutritional topics.

“They’re being served with our food, but with education as well,” explaind Cooper.