This weekend a convoy of nearly 300 bike riders canvassed 140 miles of state highways, back roads and bike trails to equate the farthest distance that members of a Baltimore-based community organization travel to deliver free food and services to people with life-threatening illnesses.
Each rider committed to raising a minimum of $1,500 for Movable Feast, which has expanded its relief services from its original target group, those living with HIV/AIDS as well as with breast cancer.
The group also works to ensure that those they serve have basic needs and that their medications work well with their foods. It delivers up to 18 home-delivered meals a week. It also delivers meals to emergency centers and drop-in centers.
"We began serving people with breast cancer. Today we serve anyone with a life-threatening illness who is in medical care or treatment for their disease," said Movable Feast's executive director, Tom Bonderenko.
The organization began in 1990 by delivering two meals twice a week to clients. Last year, Bonderenko said, Movable Feast served 702,000 meals to more than 3,600 households in Baltimore City and its five neighboring counties as well as to communities on the Eastern Shore. The group also offers nutritional counseling, medical transportation and culinary training for job placement.
Since 2008, the organization, which formerly operated out of church kitchens, school cafeterias and a restaurant, has been housed in East Baltimore.
Ride for the Feast began in 2002 with two dozen riders that raised $30,000. As of Sunday afternoon, this year's event had raised more than $589,000, according to the Ride for the Feast website.
"For these individuals food equals medicine," added Bonderenko. "This is not about wanting some extra food for free. This is about survival for someone that cannot shop, prepare meals, does not have a support system."
On Saturday, the cyclists trekked 100 miles from Ocean City to Chesapeake College in Wye Mills. On Sunday, they rode from Broadneck Park in Anne Arundel County to Baltimore, traveling along such roads as the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail and the BWI Trail.
Sunday "was easy compared to yesterday," said John Friedman of Owings Mills, who took part in the Ride for the Feast for the fifth year. "It's a great organization, with what they do to help people."
Laura Ruas of Baltimore said that when the trek became difficult on Sunday she would think about someone she knew who had a life-threatening illness.
"I was thinking about all the energy it takes to get through that, and I said to myself, 'You can do this,' " said Ruas. "That just kept my legs moving."
For Sherri Feldman of Owings Mills, it was her third consecutive Ride for the Feast, and a year since she rode her second just weeks after completing treatment for breast cancer.
"Right after I was diagnosed one of the things I decided to do was to sign up for the Ride for the Feast not even knowing what kind of treatment I had ahead of me," said Feldman, who was diagnosed in December of 2012 and had treatment last year. She has been cancer-free for one year.
"I participate in triathlons, so I know that food and nutrition are so important," Feldman said, "and then being a cancer survivor going through treatment, it's like medicine."
Bonderenko agreed. "If you eat healthy when you are sick you will stay well," he said. "This keeps you out if an emergency room, you have fewer infections, it reduces your health care costs and ultimately impacts the wellness of our entire community and the cost of care for us all."