Group provides food & "safe haven" for those affected by HIV - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Group provides food & "safe haven" for those affected by HIV

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THOMASVILLE, GA (WALB) -

By LeiLani Golden - bio | email

THOMASVILLE, GA (WALB) –A south Georgia charitable organization sees the new year as an opportunity to help more people affected with the HIV/AIDS virus.

Thomasville's Safe Haven provides quality nutrition and care to families in a 20-county area affected by the disease. And the new year always brings greater expectations for them.

14 years ago, Safe Haven began collecting unwanted food grown by local farmers and delivered it to people affected by HIV/AIDS. Now, they distribute nearly 2,000 pounds of nutritious food every day.

"The need is so great," says Jerry Coleman, a volunteer of Safe Haven who is affected by HIV. "Many of the families in addition to the disease are impoverished."

"They're unaccustomed to having this quantity of fresh food that most Americans take for granted," says William Biggs, the organization's communications officer. "It comes to them at a great time of need when they're already ill and their families have an empty refrigerator."

Safe Haven also provides financial training opportunities to its members.

"We aren't just a hand out organization," Biggs explains. "We require people to educate themselves. Entitled isn't a word we allow at Safe Haven."

The organization is also educating communities, hoping to erase the social stigma associated with HIV.

"With this disease, people are left on the fringe of society," says a saddened Coleman.

Biggs adds, "HIV occurs in one moment's time. Just one moment can change their life forever. Whereas some diseases like lung cancer take a lifetime of bad behavior."

Coleman hopes, "The new year will bring more participation in the encouragement and helping of others."

They plan to do that by expanding their pantry locations to Valdosta and Albany, helping more clients live a healthy lifestyle.

"Finding a place to distribute food is crucial for Safe Haven," explains Biggs. "We tried in 2009 but weren't as successful as we would have liked."

And Coleman says nutrition is essential for HIV-affected people, "I have changed some of my nutritional habits and I actually feel better. They're very dear to me, Safe Haven is."

And he hopes they have many more years of success.

Safe Haven operates on just $150,000 a year while seeing a 50% annual increase in the number of people it serves.

Officials hope to increase efficiency through surveys and new programs like a ride share.

To find out ways you can help Safe Haven, call (229) 226-9310.

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