By Ashley Hackett, Photojournalism Intern
A year and a half ago, Diane Brown* sat in her small apartment in Chicago, reeling with feelings of denial and depression. She had been diagnosed with HIV at the age of 58, and the illness – and all of the emotions that come with it – were taking their toll.
“I was going through a lot of changes with HIV,” Diane said. “When I found out I had it, I put up a red stop sign to the world: just leave me alone, I don’t want to discuss it. It took me about six months, but finally I realized that I had to make a change.”
After a move from Chicago, Diane spoke with her new case manager, who told her that failing to take her medicine and eating a poor diet were worsening her condition. He suggested that she start receiving food from Open Arms of Minnesota. She agreed and finally realized the impact of her diet on her illness.
“Having this disease, I have to eat nutritiously in order to keep my body up,” Diane said. “Open Arms is there for me. They give me meals to eat so that I don’t go hungry, and I get all of the nutrition that I need.”
Now that she has accepted her illness and accepted help, Diane contentedly lives what she calls a simple life compared to the way she used to live in Chicago. Crime rates were high in her old neighborhood and she was always bustling along with the rest of the city. She now enjoys her peaceful Minneapolis suburb and claims that her body is finally settling into its rhythm.
Like many other Open Arms clients, Diane feels that the food from Open Arms does much more for her than feed her physically.
“People don’t think that food can affect you spiritually, but it does. Not only that, but mentally and physically – you’re getting everything that you need,” she explained.
Diane’s optimism also shines through in other aspects of her life; she finds happiness in the little things.
“Knowing that I don’t have to be in a shelter, that I can take a shower whenever I want – that makes me happy,” she said. “That I have a roof over my head. That when I put the key in the lock, I can open it up and say, ‘Wow, this is mine.’ That’s what makes me happy.”
From denial and deep anguish to a life full of light and happiness, the little things have made the difference for Diane. Although she still may have some darker days, the food from Open Arms and many other small joys have turned the focus of her life away from HIV and toward her own happiness.
“Open Arms feeds much more than just my body,” Diane said, “and I thank God for what I have every day. There are a lot of people who go to the refrigerator and don’t have anything – but I’ve got Open Arms. I’ve got everything I need.”
*Name changed for client confidentiality
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