THE GOOD NEWS: Thanks to safer sex, needle exchanges, and new drug therapies (not to mention death), the incidence of AIDS in King County has dropped by nearly two-thirds since its 1993 peak. The dilemma: What's a charity dedicated to providing meals, groceries, transportation, and other homey services to homebound AIDS patients to do when those patients' numbers and needs decline? The answer: See who else is dying, and help them.
That's the decision recently announced, with some trepidation, by the Chicken Soup Brigade, Seattle's uniquely cherished and plucky homegrown charity. Chicken Soup started in 1983 as a volunteer effort, serving home meals as its name implies. It incorporated the next year and dedicated itself exclusively to helping AIDS patients and others infected with HIV (whom almost everyone else, from the Reagan administration on down, was neglecting). And it built a paid staff and a $2.5 million annual budget.
Then, in 1993, AIDS cases and deaths began to decline, and the demand for Chicken Soup's services peaked. Already, Chicken Soup had dropped Care to Dance, its signature annual fund raiser. And, says Chicken Soup's communications and marketing coordinator Robert Holzmeier, "There are concerns with the [Northwest AIDS Foundation's] AIDS Walk drawing fewer people. Agencies can stay the same and shrink and go away, or change with the times."
And so, after long contemplation and with the encouragement of the American Cancer and Multiple Sclerosis Societies, Chicken Soup will now bring fresh meals to people disabled by any terminal disease—as long as their income's no more than double the "poverty line" (about $7,000 for a single person), and as long as they're not old enough to get meals free from Meals on Wheels. It will start out serving just 50 such folks, and decide later whether to expand and extend its other services to non-AIDS patients.
"This will give us a diverse funding base," says Holzmeier. But he concedes that some in the Brigade had reservations: "Some volunteers just want to work with AIDS patients." They've been assured they may continue to do so, and that "we don't plan to eliminate any existing services."