By: Alex Daley
When the afternoon shift is over at 3:30 p.m. at Project Angel Food (P.A.F.), my feet are sore, I smell like cooked food, and I have talcum powder under my fingernails. Yet, I keep coming back to be of service.
Project Angel Food is the place where miracles happen on a daily basis. Most P.A.F. volunteers will say that, by the end of the day, you have been a part something much more important than yourself. Project Angel Food played a large part in keeping me sober. It taught me hard work and compassion.
Project Angel Food was brought to my attention in my early twenties, prior to the second time I came out to my family. The non-profit was featured briefly in the 2003 film, Latter Days, where the love interest – Christian – volunteered by delivering meals to HIV/AIDS patients. Christian attempted to project a humbler persona in the pursuit of true love. He was doing the right thing for the wrong reason. In the same way, I began volunteering at P.A.F. for the purpose of burning up energy that had accumulated over the first ninety days of my sobriety. My actions did not align with my intentions; however, Project Angel Food taught me what I was capable of if my perception was focused whole-heartedly on being of service to others.
Project Angel Food is tucked back off of Vine Street and Barton in Los Angeles. Volunteers park in the back lot – which is used by the Angel Food drivers for loading the day’s deliveries – for the morning shift, which begins at 8 a.m. Home delivery service was not my first choice for being of service to others.
The kitchen seemed cold and uninviting in the early hours of the morning, but it warmed up quickly once the chefs arrived. I was put to work under the supervision of Chef Daniel.
Chef Daniel is a stout man with a permanent grin on his face. Do not let the smile fool you. Beneath the grin is the most profound and unwavering work ethic I have ever seen in a man. From the moment I met him, he gave me some good orderly direction which was not to be contradicted or questioned. Preparation: put on a hairnet and apron, wash my hands thoroughly (sing Happy Birthday at least twice), and put on rubber gloves. Then get to work.
A major part of my sobriety has been defined by taking direction without contradiction. The directions in the P.A.F. kitchen are given swiftly, and there is no time to contradict the chefs. On a typical day, the morning shift is a mix of the regular volunteers and employee volunteers from local companies such as, SoCal Gas, Warner Brothers, etc.
The chefs divide the kitchen workers into stations, and directions are given. It takes four volunteers to a station in order to fill 1,500 trays in about three hours. The first three volunteers ladle the food into the trays. Think about a microwave dinner with three compartments, then picture yourself filling one part of the tray 1,500 times. As the trays run down the line, the edges are wiped clean of any debris that would obstruct the adhesive of the plastic sheet that seals the meal. That is where the fourth volunteer comes in. He or she must place the trays in on a conveyor belt that seals the meals three at a time. The meals are tagged and dated by the fourth volunteer and put on racks to be frozen for shipment. Most of the company volunteers leave after the morning shift. The afternoon shift is more like being a line chef, because that is when the head chefs have the remaining volunteers chop, boil, and cook the food to be sealed the following day. You will have to take my word for it, my respect for line chefs and kitchen workers increased sevenfold after a single day in the P.A.F. kitchen. Project Angel Food is a well-oiled machine, but it takes hard work and tremendous compassion to keep the machine going.
Miracles happen at Project Angel Food. To be an “Angel” (volunteer) has truly been one of the most profound privileges of my life. All sorts of people can be seen wearing hairnets, aprons, and rubber gloves; and the best part is that they are all smiling. In the kitchen, everyone is equal and no one person is more important than the rest.
Project Angel Food is a diverse family where you can bring your love, hope, and dreams and share them with others. For example, I had absolutely nothing to do on my twenty-sixth birthday, and I was feeling a little down about twenty-six being closer to thirty than twenty. I called Holly and volunteered on my birthday. My fellow “Angels” found my perception of age and time just a little funny, and I was able to laugh with them. In that way, my attention was refocused on being of service to those who need assistance.
Since 1989, Project Angel Food has delivered over 10 million meals to patients with HIV/AIDS, cancer, end-stage renal disease, etc. One of the many miracles of sobriety is service. If you are anything like me, then be an Angel (if only for today).