When John Newell joined his local church, attendees were asked to make their offerings in either cash or food for the AIDS Food Store in Long Beach. Each Sunday, he would gather staples like cereal, canned soup and macaroni and cheese into a grocery bag and bring it with him.
Now president of the AIDS Food Store, Newell first joined the nonprofit’s board in 2008 as a way to honor his partner of 15 years who died of AIDS in 2000.
“I have found that being a part of AIDS Food Store has allowed me to honor his legacy as well as give back to the community,” he said.
Run entirely by volunteers, members of Lighthouse, an Edison International LGBT-focused employee resource group, recently headed to the food store to help package groceries and serve lunch to those in need.
Manning a row of tables, the volunteers filled bags with fruits, vegetables, breads and canned goods. They also cooked hamburgers and served lunch to about 50 people who stopped by the AIDS Food Store.
“It’s nice to give back and make these people feel loved,” said Mark Clayton, a Southern California Edison analyst and Lighthouse inclusion chair. “They are so happy to see new faces. We just hung out and talked.”
In addition to packaging grocery bags, the Lighthouse volunteers brought with them about 100 pounds of food they had gathered from co-workers. They also presented the nonprofit with a $5,000 check from Edison International.
All of the monies will go toward purchasing food for the AIDS Food Store.
“It’s not only that we are making a difference, we see that our donation is being used purely for the benefit of their clients,” said Maura Farver, an SCE manager and Lighthouse volunteer chair. “Some of these clients are in poor health and are struggling to make ends meet.”
Founded in 1985 by a group from Christ Chapel Long Beach, the AIDS Food Store provides food and support to those living with HIV/AIDS. Many of those who use the nonprofit are referred by social services and government agencies. Food is distributed on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month.
Today, the nonprofit is the longest-serving HIV/AIDS food provider in Southern California.
“Volunteers are the cornerstone of our organization,” said Newell. “Having volunteer groups like Edison come in to help ensures that our clients are greeted with a warm smile and provided healthy and nutritious food.”
And as HIV/AIDS has moved from a chronic disease in the ‘80s and ‘90s to a manageable one today, he notes that it is the “Food” in AIDS Food Store that unites everyone.
“Take away the AIDS in AIDS Food Store and you have Food Store,” he said. “Food is something that unites people and brings them together. We all want to sit down and break bread with friends and family.”
Edison International volunteer groups like Lighthouse are also a way for employees to give back to the communities the company serves.
“It lets them know we care and helps Edison be a good community member,” said Farver.
For more information or to volunteer: aidsfoodstore.org.