“Early on in the pandemic, we delivered meals to people who oftentimes answered the door in tears stating that they thought they had been forgotten. They didn't have people checking on them, so that becomes a part of our job,” shares Owen Ryan, president and CEO of Project Angel Heart.
Having heart starts from the top and Owen represents all that is good about this Colorado-based organization that gets homemade meals into the hands of critically ill patients. They have been serving the Colorado community since 1991 and in July of 2021 began serving Boulder County, delivering nearly 4,000 meals with the overwhelming support of volunteers.
Owen’s personal connection to the project began when he was working overseas and had a very close friend back home suffering from a serious medical condition. He had lost everything, including his job and his home due to compounded medical bills, which is when Project Angel Heart stepped in and served him for the last one and a half years of his life.
“I saw firsthand the impact of the organization, so when I learned of their need for a CEO, I went for it,” Owen says. “It feels like a way to give back because they took care of my friend when I was 5,000 miles away. It’s an opportunity to say thank you.”
How the program works is when a person is suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, kidney/heart/lung/disease and other illnesses, their medical provider recommends them to the organization for meal prep with delivery services. Owen describes themselves as “the folks who fill your refrigerator with everything your doctors tell you you need to get better.”
A team of professional chefs and registered dieticians curate every client's meal, including exact macronutrient requirements and sourcing high-quality protein options mainly from their Colorado partners. Executive Chef Brett Newman works with a team of eight trained chefs in the kitchen to create healthy and delicious meals for their thousands of clients, while nutritionists are essential in providing direct nutrition counseling and education so clients better understand the healing this food provides. This incredible effort is powered by 40 staff, 8,000 volunteers and consistent monetary donations that keep food on the tables of those that need it most.
“The volunteers are the heroes,” says Owen. “Folks who come out in rain, sleet or shine to make sure meals go to those people in need. It takes about 500 volunteers to get a meal from our kitchen to someone’s front door, so every weekend people show up to support, including retirees, kids and young professionals.”
Typically, clients are on their meal plan with the organization for six months to a year during those times they are most vulnerable. What makes this project so special is the wholesome approach to serving every enrolled person by checking in on them, offering educational services around their diet and making research-based decisions to improve their health.
When a head of household gets sick, Project Angel Heart takes their service one step further by offering to feed every person in the home. For example, if a mother is diagnosed with ovarian or breast cancer, they deliver meals for them, their children and any other dependents. Owen shares that when they know of someone’s birthday, especially a child's, they make sure a handmade cake gets delivered right to them. Smiles abound!
They are a part of the Food is Medicine Coalition and have participated in Harvard research studies to understand the impact of their services. The results have shown that clients have fewer hospital visits, lower medical bills and more quality time with their friends and family.
With optimism as the driving force behind Owen and the organization's work, 2022 is set to be their most successful year yet with 620,000 meals projected to be delivered across Colorado. Their ambition to do good doesn’t stop there. Their goal is to have meals delivered between Fort Collins and Pueblo by 2025.
Sidebar: Act from the Heart
“These meals are provided at no cost to the clients but do cost money, so we are asking that people step up and create further access for people in Boulder County to have meals this year,” says Owen.
What you can do:
Companies or families can sponsor a meal, you can become a volunteer driver, help decorate the meal bags (1,500 go out weekly), or join their Bread and Butter Club to become a monthly donor.
On April 28th, when dining out in Denver, 25% of the bill at participating restaurants will go to the project.