Charity director driven by death

By Sean Rose

Sitting behind a desk cluttered with papers, a few packs of Doral cigarettes and a picture of his partner of 15 years, Terry Mullins shakes his head.

Mullins, the director of Moveable Feast, a non-profit organization that delivers hot dinners every weekday to HIV and hospice patients, estimates that he works at least 60 hours a week, including at least four or five hours on the weekend. With his $26,000 salary, that translates to a few dollars above minimum wage — on a good week.

“I have to do pretty much everything but cooking,” Mullins says. “And I have done that.”

The schedule wears on him, but Mullins shakes his head when asked if he ever thought about quitting.

“Doesn’t cross my mind,” Mullins says. “I believe it’s a job that needs to be done and has to be done, and I don’t know of anybody else that’s going to come in here and do it for that amount of pay.”

HIV patients have trouble maintaining their weight. Loss of appetite, nausea and diarrhea are usual side effects of HIV medications, and can be symptoms of the disease itself. Moveable Feast works with its clients and their doctors to provide nutritious meals that help fit each patient’s dietary needs.

Bill Fuller, an AIDS patient and client of Moveable Feast since it began in 1998, says he’s gained about eight pounds from the service.

Fuller guessed Moveable Feast makes up about 95 percent of his diet. He weighs 180 pounds now, but has dropped to 130 pounds in the past. Gaining and holding weight is something doctors encourage HIV patients to do to help fight illness, Fuller says.

Much of Mullins’ job is applying for grants and organizing fundraisers to keep Moveable Feast in business.

The organization was at the point of bankruptcy last year, and its board of directors was making plans to dispose of its assets. Funding from the city kept Moveable Feast operating, and now the organization is on fairly stable ground, Mullins says, but “it’s always a fight.”

The fuel for Mullins’ fight in HIV/AIDS efforts came after a close friend died because of the disease in the early 1990s.

Mullins looks across his office, describing Gregory Hawver. The tall, dark-haired young man, originally from Michigan, met Mullins in the mid-’80s. He was a “bitch,” Mullins says affectionately, but someone who liked to have fun, someone who attracted people.

Hawver was also one of hundreds of thousands of people nationwide infected with HIV in the mid-’80s. As somebody who liked to have a good time, Hawver’s infection wasn’t a surprise, Mullins says; at least, not as much as when Hawver admitted to Mullins that he was HIV-positive.

With a more intense stigma in the 1980s, it was rare for anyone to openly admit to being HIV-positive, Mullins says. But one day at an AIDS Volunteers of Lexington fundraiser, Hawver turned to Mullins, who was sitting next to him.

“You love me, don’t you?” Hawver asked Mullins. Mullins told his friend that he did.

“Well, we’ll see in a second,” Hawver said.

He stood up and announced to the room that he was HIV-positive. Mullins had heard it from a friend earlier but never directly from Hawver.

“At that time, it was definitely a death sentence,” Mullins says.

In the last four or five months of Hawver’s life, Mullins visited him when Hawver’s partner was at work. He would come to Hawver’s Lexington apartment every weekday before his bartending shift at Crossings to make him lunch or just look after him.

One day near the end, Mullins went upstairs to Hawver’s bedroom and couldn’t find his friend. He looked through the apartment and still couldn’t find him. Hawver was in bed, so thin that Mullins couldn’t see him covered with a blanket.

“That’s just what happened to him,” Mullins says, wiping his eyes. “He actually just kind of wasted away.”

“It’s not a pretty death, if that’s what you’re dying of.”