By Alexandra Fradelizio | m/Oppenheim Media Writer
When Project Angel Food was founded in 1989, the AIDS epidemic was impacting many friends of critically acclaimed author and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson. In order to support those battling the disease, Williamson sent warm meals to friends who were often too ill to shop or cook for themselves. Nearly 30 years later, Project Angel Food is continuing the tradition by providing food to those battling critical illnesses in the Los Angeles area.
“It’s during the most challenging times in these people’s lives when the angels of Project Angel Food come in and deliver these frozen meals,” explained the organization’s executive director Richard Ayoub.
“We decided we need to share this beautiful gift with everyone in Los Angeles who has a critical illness.”
With it’s motto “food is medicine,” Project Angel Food recruits volunteers in order to prepare nutritious foods for individuals battling cancer, diabetes, and other debilitating illnesses. Since many individuals are too sick to eat, volunteers make sure the meals look appealing and even taste test them before they are delivered.
“We have registered dietitians that work with our professional chefs, and they develop these meal plans that are not only delicious but they’re nutritious, and they help heal,” said Ayoub.
“We make sure that they have every nutritional ingredient that they need to help the particular illness.”
The vast majority of Project Angel Food participants are living at or below the poverty level and are not charged for any meals they receive. While the organization’s kitchen is located in the heart of Hollywood, volunteers deliver meals to every area of the 4,000 square miles that constitutes Los Angeles County.
“We are strong believers in all forms of equity, and so geographic equity is very important to us,” explained Ayoub.
Being a landmark nonprofit in the Los Angeles area, many celebrities have contributed to the success of Project Angel Food. Prior to her death in 2011, actress Elizabeth Taylor supported the organization through donating her time and money.
“She took such great care of us and really made sure that whenever we needed anything, we got it,” said Ayoub of Taylor.
The largest single donor in the history of Project Angel Food was George Michael. In 1993 when the AIDS epidemic was reaching its pinnacle and donations started to waver, the organization received a hand-written note of encouragement from Michael with a $25,000 donation.
“That check kept coming for every single year until the year he died,” Ayoub said of Michael’s support.
The assistance from individuals and foundations has tremendously helped Project Angel Food in recent years. After last year’s presidential election, the organization faced a waiting list of 104 people who were concerned about recent changes to their health care plans. Through fundraisers and donations, the waiting list has decreased to 25 people.
“Our indication is that our clients are the most vulnerable people in our population,” explained Ayoub.
“These people are sick, hungry, and possibly alone, and they need these meals.”
“It’s people who care about other people who are coming forward to make sure that Project Angel Food can continue to be the safety net that we have been for 28 years.”
Ayoub, who followed the work of Project Angel Food prior to joining as its executive director, says the organization is a tremendous gift from the HIV/AIDS community to the rest of Los Angeles.
“I have deeply respected this organization and the work it has done, and it is one of the most beloved organizations in this city that only does goodness.”
“When I walk into this building, it’s a sanctuary of goodness. It’s people who are here because they want to be here.”
Ayoub hopes to expand the work and influence of Project Angel Food across the state of California. The organization is teaming with other nonprofits, including Project Open Hand, in a statewide pilot program aimed at reducing health care costs by 20 percent.
“We definitely see our sights on providing meals to the entire state of California,” he stated.
“Our goal is to feed more people, and we want to continue to make a difference.”
After 28 years of existence, Project Angel Food continues to be recognized for their dedication to aiding those who need help the most. The organization was recently named Nonprofit of the Year by State Assemblyman Richard Bloom.
“We are not going to stop until we get every single person fed because no one deserves to go hungry,” explained Ayoub.
“We don’t say no to anyone. We say yes.”