“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.