Owen Ryan was met with tears of joy after each doorbell he rang.
Last year, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Ryan made food deliveries to homes across the Denver region as president and CEO of Project Angel Heart. The local nonprofit provides nutritious meals to individuals suffering from severe illnesses — such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and kidney/heart/lung disease — with especially compromised immune systems if exposed to COVID-19.
“If you ever want a shot of joy to your heart, deliver a meal to someone who hasn’t had people reaching out to them or the support they needed,” Ryan said. “In the early phase of the pandemic, every time I did a delivery, someone came to the door with tears in their eyes. There was a woman who said: ‘I just thought everybody would forget me. I didn’t know how I was going to figure this out.’ ”
Project Angel Heart delivered more than 550,000 meals to over 4,000 people this year. It doesn’t happen without the help of 40 staff members and about 6,000 annual volunteers. The nonprofit, founded in 1991, receives support through The Denver Post Community Foundation’s Season to Share program.
“We’ve seen growth unlike what we had experienced ever before,” Ryan said. “Within the first three months of the pandemic, we were serving about 50% more meals than we have previously. It made us really confront the essential nature of what we do.”
Project Angel Heart has clients across the Front Range with service in metro Denver, parts of Boulder and Weld counties, and the Colorado Springs area. Client appreciation is palpable through identity-protected testimonials.
“I wanted to let you all know how much I appreciate the meals,” said Sharon, the wife of a Project Angel Heart client. “My husband has ALS and now there is always something in the freezer for him to eat. The food is really good, my husband enjoys it, and can chew and swallow it with no problem. If I had a million dollars, I would give it to you. You have taken about 75% of the stress off my back and now I have more time to take care of myself.”
It all begins in the nonprofit’s Denver kitchen, 4950 Washington St., where executive chef Brett Newman oversees the creation of 1,500-plus meals every day. Recipes start from scratch with locally sourced ingredients in a kitchen that spans roughly 10,000 square feet. A team of several professional chefs and local volunteers work tirelessly to keep Colorado’s most vulnerable residents well-fed.
“This is not easy work that we’re doing,” Newman said. “We’re lifting 50-pound containers all day, every day. We’re cutting up 500 to 600 pounds of carrots and 1,000 pounds of onions per week. Without this volunteer structure and following that we have, it would not be possible. … I don’t necessarily need someone who is the most skilled. I want someone who is here specifically for the mission.”
Project Angel Heart is accepting donations and volunteers for help in its kitchen, in addition to packaging and delivering meals throughout the Front Range. The nonprofit also needs help decorating meal bags given to clients that are available for pickup at its Denver kitchen. Visit projectangelheart.org for details on how to get involved or make a donation.
The nonprofit aims to expand its coverage area from Fort Collins to Pueblo by 2025.
“The generosity of the Colorado community to make this happen is unbelievable,” Ryan said.
Name of organization: Project Angel Heart
Address: 4950 Washington St., Denver, CO 80216
In operation since: 1991
Number of employees: 40
Annual budget: $5.4 million
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