It was a hot and humid afternoon yesterday in South Florida when I accompanied a team of clients from The Poverello Center to meet with US Senator Bill Nelson's Broward district office staff. These courageous individuals were determined to communicate their message to the Senator's Broward staff while as they delivered over 500 advocacy cards signed by clients of Poverello's food bank.
The Nelson staffer we met with listened carefully as each individual shared their story of living with HIV/AIDS and provided evidence on how Ryan White funded food and nutrition and other services have helped improve and sustain their quality of life.
As one of these courageous individuals was sharing their personal story and exposed their vulnerability of what it is to live with HIV/AIDS, how Ryan White programs provide the life sustaining support and the challenge to access healthcare and support programs, in comes a strident teabagger who identified herself as "Judy". Judy interrupted the meeting, without saying excuse me, to deliver a handwritten letter on several sheets of yellow lined paper.
Click the jump to read what Judy had to say, as well as the advocacy card and some of the comments clients shared with Senator Nelson.
The brave AIDS advocates that accompanied me were taken back and startled but handled themselves in a dignified manner while the teabagger sternly communicated to the staffer,
"Let the Senator know I was in Washington this weekend with thousands of other Floridians"
and handed her letter to the staffer. She left the office then turned sharply on her heels and headed back in the office to bark,
"I'm not Astroturf, I'm a concerned American".
Never once did this woman consider that other Americans showed the courtesy to schedule time to meet with staff to discuss issues involving healthcare.
Shame on you Teabagging Judy!
Before the courageous AIDS advocates left the meeting, they urged Senator Nelson to act swiftly on Ryan White and other healthcare-related issues and pleaded,
"we need you, his staff, to spread how important of an issue this is."
Below are some of the comments people wrote on their advocacy card they shared with Senator Bill Nelson:
"Please don't stop food. If Ryan White funding is stopped, I won't be able to eat!!"
"Poverello's food bank is an essential part of this community. Without it many people will go hungry."
"Without this program I would not be able to afford to eat. Please allow this to continue."
"Hope we can continue the program to help others as it has helped me."
Below is the advocacy card provided by The Association of Nutrition Services Agencies (ANSA)
I am writing to you today to urge your support of a three-year extension of the current Ryan White program. The Association of Nutrition Services Agencies (ANSA) and an overwhelming majority of other national, regional and local AIDS advocates, including my own organizations, have come together in support of this plan.
In addition to a three-year extension, I ask you to support the inclusion of food and nutrition services as a core medical service when those services are prescribed by a physician through Medical Nutrition Therapy. We know that access to appropriate food and nutrition is a key determinant in whether people living with HIV/AIDS receive medical treatment, remain compliant with their medication regiments and benefit the most from these treatments.
Finally, I urge you to support the passage of legislation extending the Ryan White program by September 30, 2009. As you know, the current Ryan White legislation sunsets at the end of September, and if an extension is not passed by then, millions of our nation's most vulnerable neighbors risk losing access to life-saving medical and support services.