The ordering is simple. He picks whatever he likes from a user-friendly online portal. Burgers, cheese, milk, chicken. The avocados are the Hass variety. The “good kind.”
Six days and a host of update notifications and text messages later, there’s a knock at his door. So much food he has to share with a neighbor (also a member of a food bank; he reciprocates when he gets his orders).
He has enough, still, for weeks of eating. Which he does, despite his ailments: HIV positive since 2006, chronic hypertension. Lymphoma.
Such is the good fortune — all things considered — of Rick Jesus, 60, of Dania Beach. And it’s all thanks to Poverello, a non-profit whose mission, per its website, is to feed “individuals living with critical and chronic illnesses, including HIV.”
It’s a service they extend to nearly 3,000 people in the tri-county area. But one which could be in jeopardy if funding continues to dwindle for its already cash-strapped food delivery program.
Partnership in Peril
Poverello has been delivering to its clients since 2006 thanks to funding secured by the local help and information service 211.
“They contracted DoorDash to do all the deliveries,” said Thomas Pietrogallo, managing director of Poverello. “We never had to pay a thing.”
The DoorDash program allowed Poverello the unique opportunity to extend aid to clients who were immobile and/or lived a significant distance from its distribution center in Wilton Manors.
But in May of this year the 211 funding ran out.
“We found out in a Zoom call,” Pietrogallo said of the depletion of the 211 funds.
Poverello was forced to immediately find other means to keep the partnership with DoorDash afloat. They pay $4.95 per delivery and are barely scraping by.
“We do get donations,” Pietrogallo said, “but it won’t be enough that we can keep delivering to all of our clients if we lose federal funding.”
Federal Funds and the Fight to Feed
While Poverello’s focus is undoubtedly the sick, they “try not to refuse anyone” who needs the help, according to Petrigallo. About a third of their clients are homeless or otherwise disadvantaged (rather than sick).
Nevertheless, Poverello still receives federal funding from programs like Ryan White.
Per its website, Ryan White allocates $2 billion annually for assisting people with HIV/AIDS throughout the U.S. It’s these very funds, along with internal donations, which have allowed for the continuation of the DoorDash delivery program.
But recently, Petrigallo said, Ryan White has pushed back against providing further donations for food-bank services, preferring instead to focus on what it deems “necessities,” like medical care.
This despite the existence of what Petrigallo said is a significant, feasible alternative for providing such care:
“I’ve tried to impress upon [the decision makers at Ryan White] that helping people sign up for Obamacare would make more sense than giving them money for medical services,” Pietrogallo said with a hint of irony. (The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is, after all, a federal program aimed at ensuring the underprivileged receive medical care.)
“This way they can continue to provide for other services that are necessities, too. Like food banks.”
For the time being, Pietrogallo’s efforts appear to have been successful. At least in so much that Ryan White has not stopped contributing to Poverello’s efforts. Petrigallo adds, however, that should cut funding in the future, Poverello would have to prioritize which of its clients receive deliveries.
“We’d have no choice but to deliver to those with HIV/AIDS first,” Petrigallo said.
And that’d mean everyone else – namely the thousand or so homeless or otherwise needy individuals who benefit from Poverello’s deliveries – would likely be left out.
Looking to the Future
“Of course we’d love to obtain further donations,” Pietrogallo said when asked of his goals for the future. “It’d help ensure we can continue to serve as diverse a group of clients as possible, and not just focus on those that are sick. We really aim to help everyone that needs it."
For his part, Jesus said, he’d get by without Poverello deliveries — should they ever cease despite his HIV based need — because he’s a survivor. But that doesn’t mean he’d enjoy it. Or that it wouldn’t be difficult.
“This helps me in so many ways. Not just that I’m sick and don’t have money,” Jesus said. “I don’t drive. Don’t have a car. And even if I did, I don’t like shopping and being around people like that. This really makes it easy for someone like me to live like a normal person.”
Not to mention, he adds, “The vegetables are always fresh.”
Poverello is located at 2056 N. Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors. In addition to distributing food, they host events, provide an array of medical and wellness services, and operate a thrift store. For more information, or to donate, please visit www.poverello.org or call (954) 561-3663.