While he lay in the hospital after a diagnosis of full-blown AIDS, Dan Christianson’s apartment “disappeared.” He had no place to go back to. Weighing 90 pounds, unable to walk and gravely ill, he moved in with his mother, a senior who after a few months was unable to bear the burden of his care any longer. It was the lowest point in his life.
Christianson thanks many agencies for playing a part in his re-housing, recovery and subsequent rise to health. At the top of his list is A Loving Spoonful-a charity that delivers meals to people with advanced AIDS. He was inspired and touched by the volunteers he came into contact with and vowed to help out the cause when he was stronger. “I was pretty sick. There was a real dire need to get me back to health but I always maintained, ‘this is only temporary.'”
Not having the strength to prepare meals is an issue when you’re sick. “There are times when you wake up and think ‘oh my god I just don’t want to do anything’ and you have to eat but you don’t feel like cooking, you don’t feel like walking to the store-that’s the last thing in the world you feel like doing. Then to realize there’s actually some people who will come there every week, no matter what, and drop off food. All you have to do is go to your fridge and stick it into the microwave-and most of us can manage that.”
It was a tough road back for Christianson. “Doctors had written me off and I came back. At that point in my life my times of getting out were infrequent, so it was really nice when people came to visit me and one of the people who would come regularly were the volunteers at A Loving Spoonful. For some people that’s their lifeline. They come every week. A lot of people actually look forward to the visit. The food is a supplement, not enough food for every meal, but it’s enough to keep you going in case you get really tired. They help with basic survival. The food’s always nutritious and they have all the basic requirements.”
When he started feeling better in 2001, Christianson began volunteering at A Loving Spoonful, packing the meals for them. Nowadays, he is co-coordinator for the agency’s Make a Dish Program. Christianson goes around twice a week to retail outlets on Granville St, in Gastown, Yaletown, Kits and the West End, and checks the money cans. “It’s a nice little walkabout to meet the people and collect the money,” he chuckles. There are 50 or so sites. Christianson says donations levelled off this summer, dropped this fall and are picking up again as the holiday season nears.
“Most of the shops in the West End have a little can sitting by the till. Put the change in the can,” Christianson suggests. “It provides more meals. The cans have on average $25 in them when they’re full. That’s meals for a week for some people. We always have pockets full of change-just put it into a little jar at home and, when it’s full, donate it to A Loving Spoonful.”
The volunteer-run agency now serves 60 percent of its client base on the Downtown Eastside and is responding to that by preparing food in that area. He has helped with fundraisers on gay cruises and other Loving Spoonful events and has served on several committees. “I just like working with them because it’s like family and it’s a good atmosphere. They really appreciated my volunteer work, and they actually tell me they appreciate it, which is nice.”
Christianson expects the majority of financial support to come from the lesbian/gay communities. “We’ve been involved in it so much longer than the mainstream. This whole system was set up by gay people. It is a community, family thing for the gay community. Filling the donation envelopes and bags (you can find one in this issue of Xtra West) is crucial.”
“It would be nice to get mainstream support but that’s not going to happen, you can see it. The mainstream still believes that AIDS is a gay disease. I still have people coming up to me thinking that AIDS is a gay disease. It’s unbelievable! Well educated people!” he raises his voice.
“Young people are not using safe sex. People think it won’t touch them because they’re not gay. ‘They found this cure They have all these pills .’ The sad reality is that there are more people contracting HIV-a lot of young gay and lesbian people. I got AIDS the old-fashioned way – unsafe sex.
There’s a misconception out there that the drugs are going to save you and the reality is that some of the drugs cause a lot of problems and there is no cure. AIDS is still a terminal disease.”
A LOVING SPOONFUL.
Christmas Bag campaign.
Find the bag in this issue of Xtra West.
Follow the directions.