In a massive state-of-the-art Soho kitchen this week, chefs were working long hours to prepare a winter feast: New England Corn Chowder, Cornish Game Hens with Wild Rice Stuffing, Carrots, Bok Choy, Parsnips, Red Peppers & Brussels Sprouts, and Pumpkin Mousse for dessert.
Not for a four-course Christmas Eve menu at a Michelin-starred restaurant, but for thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other serious illnesses all over New York City.
The feast is a special occasion for the December holidays, but it’s close to a run-of-the-mill day for God’s Love We Deliver, an organization that produces miracles in the form of nutritious meals for people who are too sick to cook for themselves in the five boroughs and beyond—to the tune of 5,600 meals per weekday for a total of 1.4 million meals this year.
“In order to meet the rising demand, we had to get bigger, ” says manager of communications Emmett Findley, while leading us on a tour of the shiny new 48,000-square-foot headquarters the organization moved into in June, which is double the size of its old space and bears Michael Kors’ name. God’s Love (which has no religious affiliation, by the way) is also celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and its New York story is truly remarkable.
It all started with Ganga Stone, a hospice volunteer who visited an AIDS patient who was too sick to cook for himself in 1985 and began delivering him meals. Stone turned the inspiration into an organization, and quickly decided that delivering meals was not enough—that the meals should be tailored to meet the unique dietary needs of those suffering from chronic illness.
What that means is that in addition to the regular daily menu, God’s Love also offers a vegetarian menu and a pureed option for those who have difficulty chewing and swallowing. From there, each client is connected to a registered dietician to discuss his or her illness and needs, and meals are further tweaked if need be (if, for example, the client has diabetes, or a compromised immune system from chemotherapy).
Meals also come with a daily dessert from “Chuck the baker,” who’s celebrating 25 years at God’s Love this year and bakes personalized birthday cakes for each and every client in the Joan Rivers Bakery (named for the late comedian and God’s Love supporter). “Chuck always says, ‘Yes, these are medically tailored meals, and they’re good for you, but another sense of normalcy is having a sweet treat,'” says Jase Cannon, a long-time volunteer who delivers meals and hosts The Big Love weekend (this year on February 19–21) to raise funds for the organization.
The power of volunteers
Cannon is part of a special community. During our tour on a recent Wednesday evening, a group of hairnet-wearing volunteers stood around a table in the kitchen, chopping root vegetables and chatting. Findley introduced them as the “Wednesday night crew,” explaining that they came every week, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. When he asked them how long they’d been doing it, they began yelling out numbers. “7 years! 10 years! 16 years!” One man couldn’t remember how long it had been, and the woman next to him joked, “he was a child when he came here!”
It was a tiny glimpse at the incredible volunteer organization God’s Love operates. Volunteers chop the vegetables, yes, but they also tend the rooftop herb garden, package meals, and like the founder, hand-deliver the meals to each person. “So many of our clients are alone,” Findley says. “You need hope, and you need love, and you need dignity, and people like Jase making that delivery, coming right up to their door—so many of our clients say, ‘The delivery person is the only person I’ve seen today.'”
Standing in the Anna Wintour Volunteer Center (another celeb supporter), seeing the incredible operation in action, it felt like they had it all figured out. But Findley is careful to emphasize the work is never done, and new volunteers are always welcome.
“There’s always another person to feed, there’s always another doorbell to ring,” he says. “The more we grow, the more people we need.” —Lisa Elaine Held
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(Photos: God’s Love We Deliver)