In 2004 Project Angel Food was a Hollywood-based nonprofit providing homemade meals to critically ill AIDS patients in the area since the late 1980s. Having served more than 2 million meals and risen to national prominence, the organization was flush with cash, celebrity spokespeople and fresh food from a nearby vegetable garden tended by a fleet of volunteers.
There was just one issue: It was too big for the community it had once served, a community that fortunately was shrinking because of new, life-saving HIV-AIDS drugs.
So Project Angel Food evolved, cooking and delivering free, medically tailored meals to a range of people who were too sick to shop or cook for themselves and their families. About 30% of the recipients were people living with HIV-AIDS, but the organization’s mission changed to serve patients struggling with diabetes, heart disease, cancer, COPD, kidney failure and other critical diseases. It now provides about 11,000 meals every week — more than half a million annually. About 98% of its recipients live below the poverty level. Many are elderly and live alone.
“It’s a gift to L.A. that started with the AIDS community and its allies and now we’re helping everybody,” Executive Director Richard Ayoub said. “We could have downsized or been absorbed by another organization. Instead we decided to use the knowledge, experience and care we learned with this community and use it with everyone critically sick in L.A. County.”
Board member Tim Robinson, a volunteer with the organization since its founding in 1989, calls the shift “a silver lining.”
“We could have just stopped, but we realized we could help so many more people — cook food and save lives,” Robinson said.
Toward that end, Project Angel Food’s annual art auction, “Angel Art, Art = Love,” will take place Saturday. The event, at NeueHouse Hollywood, is marking its 25th year. More than 60 contemporary paintings, prints, sculptures and other works by artists such as David Hockney, Herb Ritts and Ed Ruscha will be sold. All proceeds from the evening, honoring L.A. artist Catherine Opie, will go to the organization.
Like Project Angel Food, which was founded by author Marianne Williamson, the annual art auction itself has evolved over the years. The first auction, in 1993, was held at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center. Hockney contributed a custom commission — a painting of someone’s pool — that night, during which he was the recipient of an Angel Award. Lily Tomlin emceed the event, and about 900 artworks were for sale.
“It’s changed,” Ayoub said. “It’s a much more curated art auction now, with fewer high ticket items. We have emerging artists, but also some of the most esteemed artists of our time.”
That first auction raised $275,000. The event has brought in more than $10.5 million for the organization to date.
Since 2105, Ayoub said, the internet has played a pivotal role in the “Angel Art, Art = Love” event, held through the online auction site Paddle8.
“It’s opened us up to the entire world,” Ayoub said. “It helps us bring in more money. Last year we brought in $440,000, exceeding our goal by almost $100,000. It also introduces us to new donors because we’re connecting with people from other parts of the country.”
Last month, Project Angel Food and five other California nonprofit organizations debuted a state-funded pilot program, the Medically Tailored Meal Program, using “food as medicine,” Ayoub said, to help patients with congestive heart failure.
“We’ve always said we’re not just delivering food, we’re delivering love,” Ayoub said. “But food is medicine, and there’s a return on the investment. If someone eats healthy food, it keeps them healthy longer. We believe we can keep these people out of the hospital longer.”
Looking forward, Ayoub said, Project Angel Food aims to cast as wide a net as possible.
“Our goal is to reach more people — bring more of them comfort, bring more of them hope and bring more of them love.”