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Season's Givings: 'Project Angel Food' volunteers prepare and deliver meals to the chronically ill

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This post is part of KPCC's "Season's Givings" series, chronicling volunteer experiences  and opportunities during the holiday season. View a full listing of charitable organizations seeking help this season and let us know your holiday volunteer story!


Every weekday, between the hours of 9 and 11:00 a.m., the kitchen at Project Angel Food is bustling. Pots clang, trays are stacked and unstacked, carts are wheeled, ovens slam shut, knives slice on cutting boards, staff cooks and volunteers alike yell, laugh, and sing their way through the morning's preparations.

The organization delivers meals to over 1,300 people suffering from life-threatening illnesses across the Southland, with the help of over 3,000 active volunteers throughout the year. The volunteers who donate their time to the local organization are given positions, such as helping to prepare and package meals, aiding in fundraising, and helping out with administrative tasks. 

Helen Jordan, an actress who moved to Los Angeles twelve years ago, has been involved with Project Angel Food for about six years.

"The thing about this organization is that it's grassroots," she says. "It's Los Angeles-based, it was born and raised here," and that is why she returns time and time again to the same community charity. "It feels like working in the neighborhood. It's kind of — my neighborhood includes Angel Food."

That's the attraction for Jordan and many others, who range in age as well as background. Vine Street Elementary School students volunteer alongside blue-collar retirees. 

Jordon is no longer a home cook herself, she admitted. She lives alone and assures me that while she does not partake in home-cooking if it requires more than 15 minutes, her time in the organization's kitchen is well spent. She works some mornings chopping onions and others hovering over a vat of boiling pasta, stirring it with an industrial-sized ladle.

It's possibly not the most glamorous job for an actress, though it is rewarding. Jordan is at home as disabled children and cooks vy for her attention in the busy kitchen. 

"You go in that kitchen, you see a lot of smiling. You hear singing. There's a lot of joy," she said. "I think it may come out of that fact that — even though the staff is being paid for it — they're still doing something that is special. And so consequentially, the volunteers are, almost without exception, fun to be around - fun in the sense that they enjoy what they are doing."

Jordan discovered the organization in the L.A.Times, where she answered an ad seeking volunteers for Divine Design, an annual fundraising shopping extravaganza where all the proceeds go to Project Angel Food. 

"The first day I came in, I got hooked. I got hooked because of the kind of people I'm working around," Jordan said. Though she doesn't know any of the clients she cooks for personally like some other volunteers do, she does see the joy in helping others. 

"I ought to pay them to come here," she said. "I really enjoy it." 

"One thing I will say about our volunteers," said volunteer coordinator Vesna Fartek, "since 1989, there's never been one day that Project Angel Food has missed getting meals out, not through the Riots, through earthquakes, through 9/11, every single day they have gotten the food out." 

Volunteers do about "80 percent of the work" that keeps the organization going, Fartek said.

Prospective volunteers must attend a one hour and a half orientation meeting. Afterwards, they're  entered into a database to be notified by email alerts of available shifts. There is no minimum requirement for hours and volunteers can participate in whatever they choose.

Fartek believes that by not putting requirements on the volunteers, there is little to prevent newcomers and returning volunteers from donating time. 

Anyone interested in volunteering from the ages of 14 and up, are welcome to call (323) 845-1816 or email volunteers@angelfood.org.

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