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Friday, March 03, 2017

Whipping Up a New Course at Moveable Feast

Written by  Bill Redmond-Palmer
Christian J. Metzger, more meals to more people Christian J. Metzger, more meals to more people

Twenty-eight years ago, Moveable Feast began its long and storied history serving healthy meals to people living with HIV/AIDS. During that time, five executive directors have been at the organization’s helm, including recently retired Tom Bonderenko, who served for nine years, the longest of any of his predecessors. The newest, Christian J. Metzger, is nearing the six-month mark of his term, and is getting settled in, with a good handle on the agencies past, present, and future.

Metzger planned all of his life to live in Baltimore after growing up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and attending Salisbury University. He has been here 14 years, the whole time working in human services. Prior to his current post, he worked at the Franciscan Center in Remington. The center provides meals and pantry services, job and employment assistance, referral and counseling services, and much of their work centers around providing eviction prevention services.

“I was greatly influenced during my time at the Franciscan Center by the teachings in the book of St. Francis,” said Metzger. His experience there taught him to never judge clients, and that the agency should have taking care of people as their number-one concern. “I do my best to look at people and meet them wherever they are, whomever they may be, then figure out how to move them forward.”

Metzger was recently married to his wife, Katie, and they currently have no children. He shares with St. Francis the love of animals, however, and shares his home with two fur babies, a cat named Penny Sue, and a dog named Colby. “It’s my great honor to be part of this organization, specifically because I am the first straight male to head it. I take pride in telling my friends and family about my work, how wonderful it is, and how I have been embraced here. I was actually unaware that was the case until after I was hired.”

Along with the new executive director, Moveable Feast is undergoing a major four-phase construction project that will make the space more user-friendly and efficient. The project will include a new entrance, directly to the offices, that will finally be ADA compliant, instead of forcing patients to enter through the rear of the building. The project will increase kitchen capacity, make room for much needed cold storage space, as well as a new prep and baking kitchen for culinary students. Most importantly, it will allow more volunteers, the backbone of the organization, to work during each shift.

Moveable Feast is currently serving 800,000 meals annually. Looking to the future, Metzger hopes to see them double that to 1.5 million within five years. Much of that expansion will take place on the eastern shore, where Metzger is currently searching for a location for a distribution and possible production center.

Today the organization has added people living with all forms of cancer to those eligible for their services. They work with the Cancer Center, Susan G. Komen Maryland, and other nonprofits, to identify new clients who need their services.

Even as things change however, Metzger affirmed the organization’s commitment to always remember and be of service to people living with HIV/AIDS, and the LGBT community, the people who began the organization. Currently, approximately half of the people Moveable Feast serves are living with HIV/AIDS. “When our mission statement was updated,” said Metzger, “we were intentional about purposely leaving our mission to serve those living with HIV/AIDS in it. In fact, the idea that our heritage needs to be respected has been pounded into me since I came on board.”

In recent years, Moveable Feast has made a serious commitment to the “food is medicine” philosophy, based on the powerful role food plays in people’s overall health, and how good diet can prevent, limit, or even reverse disease – such as diabetes and hypertension. It’s not a new concept: in 400 B.C., Hippocrates, considered to be the founder of medicine, advised “let medicine be thy food and let food be thy medicine.” Moveable Feast is teaching these ideas to their partners, to get them to provide the right food to clients.

Today, Moveable Feast dieticians now make home visits. They talk to patients about eating healthier, including food and drug interactions, such as which foods make particular medications work better or worse, providing clients with both education and “prescription food.”

Moveable Feast has been working with Johns Hopkins University to develop a white paper, to be issued in March.

Metzger is proud of and inspired by the teamwork and unified spirit he has found at Moveable Feast. “This is one of the few organizations I have been part of, where it feels like everyone is running in the same direction.”

The thing Metzger would most like to have, is more volunteers, especially those who can work on a regular schedule. There are volunteer opportunities seven days a week. Along with preparing meals, volunteers can play a special role by doing ride alongs with dieticians to visit clients, and by delivering meals to clients. Both the in-home medical nutritional therapy service, and the fact that delivery drivers are trained to talk to clients to see how and where they are, and to make them feel someone cares, are things that Metzger says, set Moveable Feast apart from other meal providers.

Moveable Feast has begun registration and fundraising for its largest annual fundraiser, Ride For the Feast. One hundred percent of the funds raised during the May 13th and 14th event, go toward the cost of meals for clients. For more info or to donate, visit Rideforthefeast.org. For more information about Moveable Feast, it’s mfeast.org.

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