Jose Rivera has met some of his closest friends while cutting vegetables, sorting beans and scooping food onto plates at Project Angel Food in Hollywood.
"It's good to come here and be grounded,” said Rivera, describing the 12 years he has spent volunteering at the nonprofit organization's kitchen. "These faces and knowing the mission of Project Angel Food, that makes you get up."
Project Angel Food delivers 700,000 meals a year, more than 13,000 nutritious meals per week to men, women and children with life-threatening illnesses, including HIV/AIDS, cancer and renal failure. About 1,500 dedicated volunteers provide an average of 54,000 hours of service annually.
Through traffic jams, riots and earthquakes, the organization has not missed a meal since it began in 1989.
"The people we serve are so sick that they cannot cook for themselves," said Margaret Steele, CEO of Project Angel Food.
The frozen foods are delivered daily across Los Angeles County, from Long Beach to Lancaster. The meals are delivered on a set schedule so that clients know when they are getting their food and can make their appointments around deliveries.
The group has a little more than two dozen staff members and relies on donations, the help of dedicated volunteers and those who show up when they can to get these meals on the road. Rivera and co-volunteers Sharon Aberg and Cees Paul spend three hours on their feet at Project Angel Food, giving them plenty of time to learn about each other and their backgrounds.
Aberg, the Jewish grandmother everyone calls "Goddess," has spent the last 18 years volunteering her time. There, she met Jose, from Puerto Rico and Cees, the retired airline employee originally from Holland.
The other person in their group, Hatsue, is originally from Japan and has become so attached to the cause that she made a big move years back.
"We became such good friends that Hatsue sold her house in Glendale and she moved to my street," Rivera said.
They came to the nonprofit for different reasons, but found community and a common voice.
"And it's from (the heart) and you are actually doing something for somebody," Aberg said.
Though this has been a place for them to come together and create an inseparable friendship, Rivera, Aberg and Paul have been touched by how much the volunteer work affects others and the connection they make to those they usually never meet.
"One time, I was at a dermatologist and this guy, I was wearing my Angel Food t-shirt, guy got on his knees and said, ‘I want to thank you. You kept me alive for two years,'" Aberg said.
That kind of reward and the friendships they've forged make it easy to get up in the morning and volunteer their times.
"When they don't want to come they say, 'Oh, I want to see Jose; I want to see Jose so bad; I miss him so much,'" Jose said laughing.
To learn how you can help, visit projectangelfood.org or call 323-845-1800. Project Angel Food is located at 922 Vine Street, Los Angeles CA 90038-2702.
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