AIDS patients, helpers find blessing Volunteers: Christmas Day visits with food, gifts lighten spirits


Squeals of joy filled the West Baltimore home of Denise Lyons yesterday as her two young children opened gifts festively wrapped for the holiday.

It was a scene repeated in thousands of homes throughout the Baltimore area -- with one big difference. Lyons, 35, is one of more than 150 people in the region homebound with AIDS. For her, daily life is trying enough, and the holidays bring even more strain.

But her Christmas, and that of her children, Denise Watson, 5, and Samuel Watson, 4, was transformed by a visit from Harriett Heyman, a volunteer for Moveable Feast, which prepares and delivers free meals to people with AIDS and their dependents.

On Christmas Day, the organization delivered gifts, as well as meals of baked ham, roast turkey and stuffing, candied yams, peas and carrots, fresh fruit and dessert.

"You know the Lord is good," said Lyons, smiling as she watched her children unwrap everything from a purple Nerf ball to a Barbie doll to a radio-controlled destroyer truck. "If it weren't for these people, I wouldn't have that much for the children. It's a blessing."

At Christmas, life can be particularly tough and depressing for people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The food and the presents, the visits and the companionship are intended to help ease the pain and loneliness as well as provide nutritious meals to people who need them.

"It meant a lot to me, it meant the world to me," said Wayne Cooper, 36, of Federal Hill after a volunteer brought him milk, a shirt and shoes. "I live alone, and I love them for what they did -- their caring."

Cooper added, "It had a special meaning for me on Christmas because I didn't think there was going to be anything to brighten my day."

The day was also a blessing for volunteers like Heyman, 55, a retired state worker from Randallstown who brought joy to Ms. Lyons' home yesterday. Heyman has a particularly strong reason for volunteering: Her 35-year-old son, a hemophiliac, has tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS.

"I feel like they give me a gift by letting me do this," said Heyman. "I couldn't be spending Christmas any other way."

Many others in the Baltimore area felt the same way this holiday season. Throughout the week and particularly yesterday morning, dozens of volunteers at Waverly Presbyterian Church peeled potatoes and sliced carrots to go with the 135 pounds of ham and 125 pounds of turkey prepared by chef Billy Brown.

Local businesses chipped in. USF&G; Corp., the Baltimore-based insurance company, and its employees donated gifts. Other companies and individuals gave hams, bagels, muffins and breads.

By 8 a.m. yesterday, more than 50 volunteers were hard at work putting the finishing touches on the meals. They ranged in age from Max Goldfarb, 9, to George Fondersmith, a vigorous man in his 70s.

Spooning corn and peas onto plates to be delivered yesterday morning, Max's mother, Therese McIntyre, said, "This to me is what it is all about, and I brought my son because I want him to know that."

Fondersmith, who is retired, explained his involvement this way: "It's purely selfish. I get more pleasure out of it than anything else I do."

It's not unusual for groups like Moveable Feast to be swamped with volunteers at Christmas and Thanksgiving. But such organizations also need help throughout the year, and volunteers are not as easy to find then.

"If you can arrange this kind of attendance every day, you've got it made," Fondersmith, who volunteers twice a week, told Moveable Feast executive director James H. Williams.

Moveable Feast serves homebound people with AIDS who are too sick to shop or cook. Five days a week, volunteers prepare and deliver enough food for three meals a day. Last year, Moveable Feast served 137,000 free meals to people in the Baltimore area. The number of homebound people with AIDS is growing, which means that more volunteers are needed -- especially during nonholiday times.

"We know everyone who volunteered today can't volunteer every day, but if they just did it one or two days a week, it would mean the food would get out quicker to our clients," Williams said.

Pub Date: 12/26/96

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