Manager of the HIV Food Bank, Stacia Whittaker, receiving a donation recently from Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Family, Culture, Sports and Youth, Irvine Best. (C. Pitt/BGIS)

"I believe that it is stigma and discrimination that kill people, more than the actual complications of the disease."

This was the opinion shared by manager of the HIV Food Bank, Stacia Whittaker, who said that she hoped the upcoming fundraiser Love, Poetry and Song would make Barbadians more aware, and tolerant towards those living with HIV. The event will be held this Saturday, February 18, at 6:00 p.m. at the Barbados Museum and is being hosted to raise funds for the organisation.

"I think that Love, Poetry & Song, is bringing another medium of getting the message across," Ms. Whittaker said, "…somebody could read a message and that alone could motivate them to change; somebody could hear it, and be motivated.?? [But] I think this is another way of bringing over information to encourage love for persons who are HIV positive, to [help us stop] discrimination," she offered.

The Food Bank manager spoke frankly about the challenges faced by both the organisation and its clients, and stressed that for many persons diagnosed with HIV, "they disclose their status [to their families] only to be treated [in an unkind manner].?? [They are] told not to eat the food, not to touch this or use that…or they can’t even live at the house…" she said, adding that this treatment could also be found in the workplace and in wider social settings.??

This had a spiralling effect, she observed, which led to the person’s inability to?? provide for themselves, which, in turn, resulted in them becoming clients of the HIV Food Bank.??

As a registered dietician, Ms. Whittaker, noted that ensuring her clients’ good health was key and pointed out that "in general, people are more likely to adhere to medication when you supply their basic needs…you fix those basic needs – food, shelter, those kinds of things – and other things come into place".?? She also revealed that making healthy choices were difficult for someone with limited or no access to food; however, fresh food was critical for persons with HIV, especially those with complications such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

It was in this vein that she encouraged persons who wished to contribute to the Food Bank, to supply fresh produce, vegetables and fruit where possible, as non perishable food accounted for some 80 per cent of the food items received.

"We have the Adopt-a-Shelf project that has been going on for eight years.?? We reach out to companies, the public sector…and we ask that people commit to funding one of our shelves," Ms. Whittaker remarked, noting that participants were sent a pantry list and signed a commitment form which stated that they would provide a specific quantity of a particular item every month.?? ??

The Food Bank manager maintained that despite the challenges, there were many faithful contributors to the Food Bank and she was always thankful that they continued to support the organisation.

She added that great strides had been made in public awareness about HIV over the past decade, and recalled that there was "…a preconception that if you had HIV, you probably deserved it… [and people wondered] why should I help??? So, then it was up to the organisation dispel that myth," Ms. Whittaker said, adding that the Food Bank had grown from strength to strength through contributions and persons wishing to give of their time.

??The poster for the Love, Poetry and Song concert

While encouraging persons to come out to Love, Poetry & Song, Ms. Whittaker expressed the hope that patrons would leave with "the message of love." She said: "That is where it can start".?? Whether it is love for your family member who is living with [HIV] or a work colleague, or your neighbour.?? It can happen to anybody – I know it sounds clich??, but it is true.?? A little compassion goes a long way.

"…Some people [with HIV] just want to give up… [some] have no one to talk to that they trust…I’m hoping [patrons] go away knowing that we are all one big community here in Barbados, and the only way [things] are going to get better is to become more tolerant…and this comes from a change in mindset and education," she said.


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