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Project Angel Food Cuts Costs, Saves Nutrition

Alexis Driggs |
December 2, 2011 | 1:53 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Volunteers prepare food in the Project Angel Food kitchens. (Courtesy of Wesley Hall)
Volunteers prepare food in the Project Angel Food kitchens. (Courtesy of Wesley Hall)
Amidst the budgets woes plaguing many social service agencies, Project Angel Food, which provides free meals to people with life-threatening illnesses, has turned to innovation to continue serving as many clients as possible. 

Project Angel Food, located on Vine Street in Hollywood, was founded in 1989, and soon focused on serving mostly those with HIV/AIDS by providing and delivering nutritious daily meals.

Twenty-two years later, the agency now serves about 1,500 clients, delivering about 13,000 meals on a weekly basis, and now requires an estimated $5 million to fund in a year. They employ 21 full-time and six part-time staff members, and about 1,000 volunteers. 

They offer more than 20 different meals plans, each designed specifically around dietary nutrients and needs for specific diseases. Frozen meals are delivered directly to clients on a weekly basis. 

Like most public service agencies, though, Project Angel Food had to make changes when the economy took a turn for the worse. Director of Development and Communications Wesley Hall said they are still managing to do well and make the most of every dollar. 

Less than 7 percent of their budget comes from government funding, though, so Hall says they are not as affected by the recession as other nonprofits. 

“We don’t count on huge government support, which I think has been a problem with other organizations,” Hall said. “We have a really strong donor base. We survive on donations from the people.” 

Still, they have seen a decrease in revenue over the past few years. In 2008, their total revenue from contributions and investment was about $5.6 million, but dropped to $4.3 million in 2010.

Clients Michael Sage and Clifton Hill have been with Project Angel Food since about 1996. They were referred to the organization after having difficulties with a food program offered by AIDS Project Los Angeles, and, like many clients, are still pleased with the services they have received over the past 15 years.

“They’ve just helped in many ways, because they’ve helped with our meal program, grocery coupons, and also…invited us to various special events,” said Sage. “I think that they’ve really helped my friend and I maintain a positive attitude and feel better about living here in Los Angeles.”

In 2004, before the recession, Project Angel Food made the decision to expand its mission and, effectively, its client base. Since its creation, the organization focused on serving clients with HIV/AIDS, but after the expansion, they also serve clients with other life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer. As the client base grows, though, Hall says the increase in funding has not been as rapid. He calls it “growing pains.”

“We look at every single dollar coming in here,” he said. “We don’t have any kind of endowment or…any cushion. Money goes directly toward supplies, paying staff, chefs, office workers. If we need to cut something, we’ll cut it.” 

The expanded mission also necessitated more space to work, so the organization moved into a larger kitchen several years ago. They have been able to cut costs further through innovation in production of meals. 

“The most expensive things that we use are fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Hall. “We’re now doing a community garden program.”

Through partnering with community gardens, as well as creating Project Angel Food Gardens from donations of vacant plots of lands, the organization is now able to produce organic fruits and vegetables to use in their kitchens. 

A Project Angel Food volunteer delivers meals to a client. (Photo courtesy of Wesley Hall)
A Project Angel Food volunteer delivers meals to a client. (Photo courtesy of Wesley Hall)

The organization also made changes to its meal delivery service to keep costs down. Previously, volunteers delivered daily hot meals to most clients. Now, clients receive frozen meals delivered on a weekly basis. They still offer hot meals for special holidays, and all meals are still cooked in Project Angel Food kitchens, but this change has helped increase efficiency. 

Despite these changes, Project Angel Food is still serving the most clients possible, and with positive results. Sage, who hears feedback from client surveys as a member of the Client Advisory Board, said there is still “a pretty general appreciation for the service,” and that they are quick to follow up if there is a problem or complaint. 

According to Hall, they are still able to serve 99 percent of applicants, without needing a waitlist. Prospective clients are able to get service almost right away, after approval. 

Project Angel Food does more than just provide meals, though, offering special events that clients can attend. Sage and Clifton, for example, were given the opportunity to see Elizabeth Taylor in one of her last stage performances, Love Letters, through the organization’s programs. 

“I’ve dealt with a lot of HIV organizations in over the years, and Project Angel Food seems to be a more inclusive organization in that they allow people who have been either clients or volunteers to participate in events they put on in a way other organizations don’t,” said Sage. “Project Angel Food has never been exclusive.” 

Just as Project Angel Food relies on monetary support, it also relies on a strong volunteer force to prepare and deliver meals. Hall says there has been an increase in people wanting to volunteer, “partly because people don’t have jobs, so they’re able to fit volunteerism into their schedule.” 

This is not the only way to support Project Angel Food.  People can support the organization through attending events, such as Divine Design, a week-long charity shopping experience during the first week of December in Beverly Hills. 

Last year, the organization introduced Do Gooding Cookies, sold in Pavilions stores in Hollywood. Costing $3.99, the cookies are baked and packaged in Project Angel Food kitchens. 

These are just two among many ways people can help Project Angel Food.

“We are L.A.,” said Hall. “[People] can help at events, help spread the word about what we do, just raise awareness that we’re still here every day, going out with free food for people who just can’t access their own food to heal and get better."

Reach reporter Alexis here.

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