“I always go to Food & Friends first.”

- June 23, 2021

Headshot of Emily Gerlach; a woman with shoulder length hair wearing glasses and smiling.

Emily Gerlach, MS, RDN, LD

“I definitely look at food as medicine to help treat and manage conditions,” explains Emily Gerlach, a registered dietitian at Whitman-Walker Health. One of 101 referral partners, Food & Friends relies on Whitman-Walker to identify potential clients who would benefit from our specialized nutrition services and medically-tailored meals. These referral partnerships range in size and scope, but each one focuses on providing individuals with the food and nutrition counseling they need to manage their illnesses. In the case of Whitman-Walker, referred individuals are often managing an HIV diagnosis, frequently complicated by severe side effects. “Nausea, vomiting [and] digestive issues” are just a few of the issues that people living with HIV face. But Emily knows exactly where to send clients struggling with these ailments.

“I always go to Food & Friends first,” Emily says. And her reasoning is simple. “Staff are incredible [and] the program can really be life-changing for patients.” Emily notes the home-delivered medically tailored meals and groceries as critical to managing complex medical conditions.

But it’s not just the home delivery that Emily finds special about Food & Friends. “The fact that Food & Friends is able to provide nutritionally tailored, therapeutic diets and texture-modified diets – if appropriate – to help a patient manage their disease state, in addition to improving their access to food in general, is just hugely important.”

More than 68% of Food & Friends clients live on less than $1,500 per month and rely completely on our service for their daily meals. Food insecurity, which was a widespread issue long before COVID, has only worsened during the pandemic. But Emily credits Food & Friends for alleviating anxiety caused by financial instability. “The fact that patients that are connected with Food & Friends don’t have to worry about those huge stressors is, I think, really, really incredible.”

COVID has been difficult under the best of circumstances, but it’s made shopping and other physical activities particularly difficult for people who are seriously ill. Emily explains, “I actually had a patient who was recently undergoing cancer treatment. He’s having difficulty chewing and swallowing, was weak and fatigued. And, of course, his immune system is compromised. So, shopping in public was risky. And, food prep was really challenging. Food & Friends was not only able to take away the burden of shopping and food prep, but also provide[d] him with meals that he could easily and safely consume. I really don’t know how he would have been able to do it without support.”

Food & Friends partnerships, like the one with Whitman-Walker, are the life-blood of our organization. Without these referral pathways, we simply would not be able to reach the number of clients that we do. In 2021 alone, Food & Friends is projected to deliver 1.3 million meals to an estimated 4,000 individuals living with a serious or chronic illness, including their dependents and caregivers. On average, clients are on service between six and nine months. Thanks in no small part to Whitman-Walker and dozens of other referral partners throughout the Washington, D.C. region, Food & Friends is able to help sick neighbors through nutrition and friendship. We could not be more grateful for these partnerships.

If you are interested in becoming a referral partner, please reach out to our Client Services Director, Phyllis Givens, MPH at pgivens@foodandfriends.org.

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