GMHC staff and volunteers packing food bags for clients
GMHC staff and volunteers pack grocery bags for Grab n’ Go pickup. Photo: Andrew Chen

GMHC Celebrates the Holidays!

GMHC kicked off the holidays with a special Thanksgiving Grab n’ Go meal distribution for both clients and the public. In December, we’ll be delivering abundant holiday meals and gift bags to clients—and taking part in a toy drive for client families, thanks to the SoMWA Foundation.

Rising food prices have made the holiday food bags even more important for clients, said GMHC’s Meals and Nutrition Program Director Grace Holihen. “Right now, food access and cost is a tough issue that’s definitely affecting our clients and the community.”

“We’ve seen an uptick in our clients and people in the community needing additional assistance to make sure they have enough food,” she added. “A lot of people do not have enough.”

The majority of GMHC’s Meals Program clients are over age 50 and living with HIV and AIDS, Holihen explained, adding that most are LGBTQ people of color. “It’s a really diverse client population—and a higher risk group that needs additional support,” she said.

Holihen said over 300 clients and community members took part in the Thanksgiving meal bag pickup at GMHC’s offices at 307 W. 38th Street. This new tradition started in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, because GMHC had to suspend its annual in-person Thanksgiving meal for safety. “We want to be able to provide some sense of normalcy and consistency to clients,” Holihen said.

On Nov. 16, people picked up bountiful bags packed with all the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal—fresh produce and dairy, shelf-stable staples like pasta, cereals, soup, applesauce—and some holiday extras like apple cider. The bags included ready-to-eat microwaveable meals.

The agency also distributed gift cards to 333 clients, so they could purchase their protein of choice for their Thanksgiving meal.

“Our clients love it,” Holihen said of the Thanksgiving event, adding that her favorite part is “just seeing everybody—interacting with our clients and getting to know community members. They’re really lovely to work with.”

After Thanksgiving, GMHC’s Meals and Nutrition staff and volunteers will deliver a holiday meal and gift bags to about 400 clients on Dec. 12 and 13. In addition to nutritious bags of food, clients will receive warm hats, gloves, socks, and blankets, along with toiletries, masks, and hand sanitizer.

GMHC will resume its weekly Grab n’ Go distributions on March 1, 2023—and it will also reopen its onsite hot meals program, which had been suspended due to COVID-19. Holihen is planning a hybrid schedule that combines Wednesday pantry pickups with lunches served on site on other days.

“Our model has changed in response to COVID-19,” she explained, with a focus on keeping clients and staff safe.

GMHC’s Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) Hub also celebrated the holidays with its annual Transgiving Community Dinner and Workshop on Nov. 10 at Dallas BBQ Restaurant at 261 8th Ave. Featuring two amazingly inspiring guest speakers, Lili Washington and Yunus Coldman, it was a space to talk about self-care strategies and share community, followed by a guided meditation.

SoMWA Toy Drive

In other news to celebrate, The SoMWA Foundation (Survivors of Mothers With AIDS) is holding its 13th annual Toy Drive on Dec. 3 to benefit GMHC families affected by HIV and AIDS and the Urban Care Foundation.

This joyous holiday tradition will take place from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Gypsy Rose Bistro at 125 W. 26th Street. Admission is free with new, unwrapped toys; otherwise, a $20 donation is suggested.

Since SoMWA’s founder, Shacazia Brown, started this beloved community event, it has distributed toys to over 25,000 children in New York City, Atlanta, Pennsylvania, Kenya, Puerto Rico, and Haiti.

To contribute to the SoMWA Toy Drive, email Brown at somwaafrica@gmail.com with “Ways You Can Give” in the subject line.

Learn more about GMHC’s Meals and Nutrition program here. To volunteer to pack meal bags for the Grab n’ Go pantry distribution in 2023, contact Volunteer Center Director Shelley Levine at shelleyl@gmhc.org.

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