By Frank Wells
CTA President David A. Sanchez preparing meals at Project Angel Food in Los Angeles.
On Feb. 19 CTA President David A. Sanchez and CTA Board members Marty Meeden and Mary Rose Ortega spent a day volunteering at Project Angel Food, a charity that provides nutritious meal preparation and delivery service to people with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses throughout Los Angeles County. The visit was arranged through CTA’s Community Outreach Department, which has helped CTA establish an ongoing connection to the charity.
After an early morning arrival, the CTA visitors were joined by United Teachers Los Angeles member Harold Galvez and his eager class of fifth-graders. Galvez and his students made the early morning walk across the street from Vine Street Elementary School, which, like several other area schools, has developed a partnership with Project Angel Food that allows regular visits from student volunteers. The enthusiastic children split into two groups — some contributing art to holiday and birthday gift bags, and others bagging up fruits and placing them into boxes for delivery — while Sanchez and the CTA Board members lent a hand.
Project Angel Food was started in 1989 by best-selling author Marianne Williamson. After a modest beginning serving 15 meals a day, the sharp increase in AIDS patients in the early 1990s quickly pushed the facility’s output to 250 meals daily. Project Angel Food has grown even more in the years since, relocating in 2007 to the new and larger Vine Street building, where 13,000 meals a week are prepared for about 1,600 clients.
“For many of our clients this is the only fresh food they have access to,” says Margaret Steele, who serves as the program’s CEO. “Our small staff includes some skilled culinary school trained chefs, who are really able to create deliciousness on a budget. And the volunteers make the rest possible.” Steele said that some patients who might not otherwise feel well enough or have the energy to eat often will eat knowing someone has cared enough to prepare and deliver a hot meal.
While his students worked getting food ready for delivery, Galvez noted that many of them come from lower-income families that need and receive assistance of some kind. “These kids are here helping others and at the same time others are helping them,” he said. “That’s what community is all about.”
After an hour or so the students returned to their school, where Sanchez was the featured speaker for an assembly on volunteerism. “What is volunteering and why should we do it?” he asked the students. They enthusiastically gave the CTA leader examples of other types of volunteer work, and shared their ideas about the importance of helping others. Sanchez encouraged them to continue volunteering whenever possible throughout their lives. “Helping each other makes the world better for everybody,” he told the youngsters.
The CTA group then walked back to Project Angel Food, where they spent the rest of the morning slicing squash and placing it into tubs for meals to be prepared later. Like all facility volunteers, they received instructions about and worked under the extremely rigorous sanitation requirements for a facility serving meals to immune-compromised patients, self-imposed requirements far stricter than normal restaurant regulations or health codes.
“This was an outstanding experience for us and for these students,” said Sanchez. “More districts should give their students opportunities like this. The earlier kids learn the value of helping others in need, the more likely they are to continue with important volunteer work in the future.”
More information about Project Angel Food, including how to contribute or volunteer, is available at www.angelfood.org.