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November 24, 2015

Our Newest Chef Preps for Thanksgiving

Chef Alonna Tuggles moved to the DC area from Rochester, NY last December to work at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center. On her daily commute, she saw homeless people along the streets and their image moved her to make a change in her life.

“I want to make a difference. I want to keep cooking. How can I do both?” she asked herself.

That's when Alonna remembered Food & Friends. She had volunteered to do meal delivery with Food & Friends in 2012, and it was an experience she never forgot. She checked in to see if the organization had any openings and luckily for all, Food & Friends was looking for a new chef.

Alonna began her role as opening chef on September 8. She arrives each day at 5:15 a.m. to start preparation of the frozen entrees before moving on to cooking the soup. With the help of the other chefs and a team of volunteers, she creates lunch and dinner for thousands of clients. Variations of the meals are made to support all dietary requirements. To provide a sense of the scope of the task, Alonna recently made 75 gallons of seafood chowder and 65 gallons of ratatouille!

However, daily preparations are small in comparison to the Thanksgiving meal Alonna will be making for the first time this year. “I am going to have to say a prayer before work that day,” she jokes. Led by executive chef Mark Locraft, the Food & Friends team will create 3,500 Thanksgiving meals. The meals will include a turkey, sides and pies - all the delicious dishes of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Thankfully, Alonna will have the support of volunteers, many of whom have some culinary experience, or have volunteered for years and are well-prepared to keep things running smoothly.

What is it like to work in a kitchen that relies on volunteers? “The volunteers want to be here,” Alonna says. “They bring an energy that wakes you up and makes you want to do your own job.”

Thanksgiving is the busiest day at Food & Friends, but Alonna already knows that at the end of it, she will list her role at Food & Friends as one thing she is thankful for this year. “It doesn’t feel like work because of the environment,” Alonna says. “You feel so welcomed in our kitchen. It is definitely ‘food and friends’. It’s such a happy place.”

November 17, 2015

Pie Sales Coming to a Close: Order While You Still Can!

Thanksgiving is getting closer. Do you know what you’re having for dessert?

If your mind is flooded with images of the season’s staples, freshly baked apple and pumpkin pies, you’re in luck and you’re just in time.

It is the last week to buy pies from Slice of Life before sales close on November 19th. Thousands have already been sold by our dedicated teams and sellers. But, we want to make this year extra special by exceeding our goal of selling 9,000 pies!

Purchasing a pie from Slice of Life doesn’t just make you the favorite at the dinner table come Thanksgiving Day; it really makes a difference in the community. Whether the pie is for yourself, a Food & Friends client, or you just make a donation, you are ensuring that someone with a life-challenging illness is getting healthy, home-delivered meals throughout the year.

Pies are available to be picked up on Tuesday, November 24th, from 12:00 pm until 8:00 pm. Pick up locations are at various CVS/pharmacy storefronts throughout the area. To find the most convenient location, go to

If you are unable to buy a pie this year, remember that any donation can help Food & Friends' clients year-round. You can make a contribution on the website or over the phone at (202) 269-6896.

Another way to help out is by volunteering at any of the 38 pick-up sites on November 24. There are three shift times to choose from and you will be able to pick the location you prefer. You will receive a Volunteer Training Call before the pick-up date to inform you of your duties and a volunteer t-shirt will be provided. Sign-Up to Volunteer.

We hope you can help us bring joy this holiday season to those who need it the most!

November 12, 2015

Food & Friends’ Critical Ingredients: Hope and Health

“This one’s a winner,” said SaVanna Wanzer at the end of a recent Food & Friends cooking class.

She is referring to the Maple Walnut Apple Crisp prepared by the group under the guidance of Food & Friends registered dietitians Sarah Muñiz and Jennifer Pasqua. “I definitely plan to make this over the holidays.”

SaVanna says she is at a good place going into this holiday season, stress-free and depression-free. But that has not always been the case. 

A native Washingtonian who has lived with heart problems since she was 16, SaVanna learned she had HIV when she went to donate blood while working at the Department of Veterans Affairs. That was in October 1985.

Rather than telling her in person, they broke the news in a letter that simply said she was not eligible to donate blood and should see a doctor to take an AIDS test. “I was devastated,” she says. As a transgender woman, she also faced rejection by close family members.

She turned to drugs and alcohol as an escape. Today, she is on a much different path, with a focus on addressing her obesity and diabetes with guidance from her Food & Friends dietitian Anna Kinnard.
“Dealing with HIV is tiresome,” says SaVanna. “And rejection by family members can send you into a depression.”

In contrast, at Food & Friends, she is “treated like a member of the family by everyone from the police officer who greets you at the door with a big smile to the nutritionist who gives you a warm hug to fellow clients who meet over cooking classes. Food & Friends provides two critical ingredients: hope and health.” At the end of the day, she says, “they are in the business of saving lives.”

With Anna’s help, SaVanna’s diabetes is under control. She has added vitamins to her diet and is learning to make better choices relating to food.

This Thanksgiving, she is one of 600 clients who will receive a free Food & Friends holiday meal – enough food to serve five people. She plans to share the spread with three transgender youth she mentors. “I want my brothers and sisters to know there is hope after HIV,” she says.

November 2, 2015

Perfect Thanksgiving Side Dish: Butternut Squash & Orzo

Butternut Squash & Orzo is an easy-to-make, delicious side dish full of nutrition. You can easily convert the recipe to a satisfying main dish simply by adding your favorite protein. Or leave out the protein and enjoy this sweet and savory seasonal treat alongside your Thanksgiving turkey.

Serving Size

Serves 6, ½ cup orzo and 1 piece of squash per serving


  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Pinch ground cayenne pepper
  • ¾ cup orzo pasta
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pinch ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese


  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Rinse and cut squash in half. Remove seeds.
  • If using fresh rosemary, rinse and chop now.
  • Drizzle 1 teaspoon maple syrup over the cut side of each squash half. Sprinkle each with red pepper flakes and cayenne. If using rosemary, add now.
  • Cover baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place squash halves on the baking sheet. Roast until squash is tender and pierces easily with a fork, about 30–35 minutes. Remove from oven. Keep squash loosely covered with foil.
  • Cook pasta following package directions. Drain in a colander. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add butter, salt, and pepper. Stir to coat well.
  • Cut each squash half into thirds. Remove skin from squash. Serve one piece of squash over each portion of pasta.
  • If using grated Parmesan cheese, sprinkle over squash and orzo now.

Courtesy of 

Abbe Levin: Hammin' It Up on Thanksgiving

With a background in theater, it’s no surprise that Abbe Levin is a bit of a ham. Or should we say turkey. For the past several Thanksgivings, she has brought joy to our clients by delivering meals while wearing her signature turkey hat.

Delivering meals “is a beautiful way to spend the holiday,” says Abbe. “People are so genuinely happy to see you and share in the joy of the day. I think of it as reaching out to friends I haven’t met yet.”

A native Washingtonian, Abbe first began delivering meals while working in New York City as an actor. Working with nonprofit organizations such as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (a funder of Food & Friends) and God's Love We Deliver, she packed meals into her car to take to older adults, people with HIV/AIDS and others living with chronic illnesses.

Twelve years ago, Abbe moved back to the D.C. to help care for her aging parents, Chuck and Marge Levin, and manage Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center – the family business they founded in 1958. After both parents passed away, she found herself with free time to volunteer on holidays. That is when she connected with Food & Friends, offering to deliver meals over the winter holidays.

“I love doing the food delivery,” says Abbe, who in recent years has been joined by her colleague from the music store, Gloria Williams. “There’s something very calming, very comforting in delivering meals on Thanksgiving,” she says, pointing out that it puts her in a good mood going into the frenzy of Black Friday.

Abbe credits her parents with instilling in their children a philanthropic spirit and genuine compassion for others. “They were the kind of people I aspire to be,” she says.

So was her brother, Robert, who passed away suddenly two years ago at the age of 55 after a short illness. She still remembers the profound statement he made at the end of his life: “I’m so lucky,” she recalls him saying. “I have people to care for me. But what happens to th
ose who aren’t so lucky? What do they do?”

Abbe thinks about that every time she delivers a meal. “Thank goodness for organizations like Food & Friends, who step in and help until a cure is found – or just until…” she says in a voice filled with compassion.

October 29, 2015

PIE DAY 2015: Stop by Farragut Square on 11/4 for a Bite

Food & Friends to Hold Pie Day in Support of Slice of Life
Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Food & Friends will be hosting a community Pie Day in support of its annual Slice of Life Pie Selling Campaign, which funds nutritious, home-delivered meals and groceries to the critically ill in our community, on Wednesday, November 4, 2015 from 11 a.m.–1 p.m. at Farragut Square. During the event, Food & Friends will be distributing information about Slice of Life and giving away FREE samples of our delicious pies!

Community members will also have the chance to cast their vote for Apple Pie vs. Pumpkin Pie! The winning pie of our "In Pie We Crust" election will go on a flash sale for the remainder of the afternoon. Everyone who votes will be entered into a drawing to win a full Thanksgiving dinner for five plus two pies that are for sale to raise funds to support Food & Friends mission.

Wednesday, November 4th from 11 a.m.–1 p.m.

Farragut Square, K St. and 17th St. NW, Washington, DC

The 9th Annual Slice of Life Thanksgiving pie sale is a simple and delicious way for members of the public to support Food & Friends’ large-scale effort to deliver 1 million healthy meals this year to those in the community living with life-challenging illnesses. The goal this year is to sell 9,000 pies. Each pie purchased will provide ONE FULL DAY of meals for a Food & Friends client.

Pies may be purchased directly from Food & Friends or through one of our corporate or individual pie sellers. Visit or text PIE to 51555 to find a directory of pie sellers, to sign up to help sell pies or to purchase pies online. Pie sales close on Thursday, November 19th. Pre-purchased pies can be picked up on Tuesday, November 24th at Food & Friends or more than 30 convenient CVS/pharmacy locations throughout the region.

The entire downtown DC community is invited to spend their lunch break tasting and voting for their favorite pie!

October 28, 2015

Living with HIV/AIDS: 30 Thanksgivings Later, Anthony Has Much to Be Grateful For

This month, Anthony Seymore celebrates his 30th Thanksgiving since being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and given six months to live. He credits Food & Friends’ home-delivered meals with helping him get to this day.

“I need to eat certain foods to stay alive,” he says. “I contacted other organizations, but there were waiting lists and red tape. At Food & Friends, I know what I’m getting and know that it’s good for me – and that gives me peace of mind.”

From his home in Arlington, Virginia, Anthony reflects on that moment three decades ago when a physician delivered the news to the then 25-year-old. “In those days, an HIV/AIDS diagnosis was considered a death sentence,” he says. His family doctor wasn’t helpful. “He told me to go home and pray,” Anthony recalls.

Six months and a day after he got the news, his mother called him. “You’re still alive,” she said.” You’re going to be alright.” With encouragement from his parents, he graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in business administration before moving from Richmond to the Washington area. In the District, he worked for 10 years at the U.S Department of the Interior before taking on a series of jobs with national retailers.

The past 30 years have included a number of health challenges, including diabetes, pneumocystis pneumonia (an infection common in people with weakened immune systems) and a ruptured heart valve.

Yet, throughout the years, Food & Friends has been there with home-delivered meals when he needed them. He marvels at how the meals have changed over the years, just as our understanding of nutrition has evolved. In the early days of the disease “the focus was on putting muscle and fat on you, so you wouldn’t waste away,” he says. Originally referred to Food & Friends in the late 1980s by the staff of Whitman-Walker, Anthony recalls deliveries of cheeseburgers, club sandwiches, and fruit juice.

Today, clients are referred to Food & Friends by their physicians for customized meals – designed by registered dietitians and professional chefs – that are both nutritionally balanced and tasty. In Anthony’s case, the meals are heart-healthy and created to address his diabetes. He is especially fond of the chicken with green beans and seafood platter.

Then there’s Thanksgiving dinner – Anthony’s favorite meal going back to his childhood. The Food & Friends delivery brings back fond memories of holidays spent at his grandmother’s – with its roast turkey, collard greens, sweet potatoes and apple pie. The only thing missing, he confesses, is the chitlins. (His doctor has given him permission to add them to the table. But only once a year!)

WATCH: Handmade Pies Baked Just for You!

The world has tried to simplify baking. You can buy a roll of cookie dough, make brownies and cakes from a box, and pies can be whipped up by dumping canned filling into pre-made crust.
These shortcuts are never used at Baguette Republic, an artisan-bakery located in Sterling, Virginia. We are fortunate and excited to have Baguette Republic baking their homemade pies for our Slice of Life pie sale again this Thanksgiving.

Made from the Best

Master Baker and President of Baguette Republic Dahmane Bernarbane is originally from Algeria. He bakes using European techniques and traditions. “We try to do everything the old fashioned way, using the best ingredients.” Bernarbane says.

All five of the pies available this year begin with a crust the bakers make from scratch, prepared by skilled workers, not just machines. Each crust is rolled out, cut and pressed in a pan by hand and the fillings are made from scratch with fresh ingredients. Despite the volume of products the bakery makes daily, each creation is made with care and attention to detail.

“There are no preservatives ... no cans. It’s like a pie made by your grandma seventy years ago.” Bernarbane promises.

Be Part of the Cause

Buying one delicious pie can make a huge difference. The purchase of just one pie through Slice of Life is enough to deliver one full day of meals to a Food & Friends client and help to provide a Thanksgiving meal for five. You can be sure that any pie you order through Slice of Life will reflect the love and care put into making it.

“It’s an honor and a pleasure for us to be part of this big Food & Friends adventure by serving the best goods to the Washington DC community. I’m sure you’re going to like it,” Bernarbane says, “because I like it myself.”

October 20, 2015

What's Thanksgiving Without Pie? Buy, Sell, Donate, Help!

Now in its 9th year, Slice of Life has become a tradition throughout the Washington region. During this holiday season, pie teams and sellers, hundreds of volunteers and the community, will all come together to ensure that our neighbors facing life-challenging illnesses enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving meal.

Slice of Life is a community-based fundraiser that encourages supporters to purchase their holiday pies through Food & Friends. Every pie purchased provides one full day of meals for a Food & Friends client – community members battling HIV/AIDS, cancer or another critical illness. These meals not only provide vital nourishment, but hope and comfort in their time of need. This holiday season, there is really no easier way to make a difference.

Baguette Republic, located in Sterling, Virginia, is a traditional wholesale bakery producing a large variety of artisan breads, cookies and pastries using the best European techniques and tradition. We offered their pies to supporters last year and received RAVE reviews! We know their pies will be the perfect addition to your holiday table.

This year, we need your help to make Slice of Life a huge success by selling 9,000 pies - we are offering five delicious flavors: Homemade Apple, Spiced Pumpkin, Oh So Sweet Potato, Southern Pecan and the American Airlines Sky Pie – a chocolate amaretto brownie with almonds and powdered sugar.

Pie Sellers are needed to spread the word about Slice of Life and help sell more than 9,000 pies to support our clients this holiday season. Sellers receive a webpage for collecting sales and donations, tips, email content and graphics for social media. You can sell as an individual or start a team.

Buy a pie, or two, for a Food & Friends client and we'll deliver it with their full holiday meal on Thanksgiving Day. Within the shopping cart, just select "Pies for Food & Friends Clients."

Simply order your pies online, select one of our convenient pick up locations, pick up your pie on Tuesday, November 24th, and enjoy!

More than 2,700 people who face remarkable challenges depend on Food & Friends each day, 6 days a week. Food & Friends' staff and volunteers will deliver more than 1 million meals this year and help bring holiday cheer to those who need it the most. We’re hoping that you will lend your support and a small amount of your time – all you have to do is buy a pie. Place your order at

September 8, 2015

Mother & Daughter Volunteer to Honor Late Family Member

Fleur and Carol Bresler find that volunteering is a meaningful way to spend quality time with each other while making a lasting impact on the lives of others.

Their time at Food & Friends is a reminder of how illness touches us all. And, while some volunteers come to Food & Friends without having a direct connection to the mission, Fleur and Carol were drawn to Food & Friends for deeply personal reasons. Fleur’s son and Carol’s brother, Bill, was a Food & Friends volunteer who became a client in the late 1990s. Ultimately, Bill lost his battle to AIDS in 2001.

“We have firsthand experience with Food & Friends because of our son Bill. At the end, they were supplying him with meals,” says Fleur. “During the time, there was a degree of comfort in knowing he was getting nutritional food.”

What started out as a gesture to help Fleur and Carol’s family during a difficult time, has become a longstanding tradition for these two.

“Volunteering makes me feel connected to the community and connected to my brother who is no longer with us,” says Carol.

In 2001, Carol started volunteering on the capital campaign to support the construction of our currently facility. She then joined our Board of Directors in 2001. Both Carol and Fleur took on a regular kitchen shift in 2011.

“I have a long history of volunteering - it is something my generation was taught to do,” says Fleur. “After my husband passed away, we decided to volunteer as a family on Christmas Day to allow others to have that day off. We’ve been volunteering together since then.”

Fleur and Carol regularly volunteer in the kitchen helping to pack meals, chop food and assist with anything the kitchen staff needs. “We don’t ever stand around waiting for another task,” says Fleur. “There is always work to do and there is always a clear appreciation shown by the Food & Friends staff.”

Carol enjoys the camaraderie of volunteering with her mom and feels like she is making a difference.

“There are those who have it worse off than me,” says Carol. “I feel like I am helping to improve people’s lives.”

Both Breslers believe Food & Friends is unique in its approach to caring for those in our community facing life-challenging illnesses as well as their caretakers and family members. “There are still very sick people in our community and it impacts the entire family. There is always more work to do,” says Fleur.

Every Food & Friends volunteer has his/her own story. Fleur and Carol, like the many other volunteers who assist us, may have come to Food & Friends for a specific reason. But they stay because of the happiness they experience being a valued member of the Food & Friends family.

“I feel a degree of satisfaction from volunteering,” says Fleur. “In some small way, I did something to help others. I feel productive and when you are close to 90 years old, that is not easy.”