What Should We Do?! knows that New York City wouldn’t be the dynamic, diverse, and culturally rich home to so many without the help of some incredible charities. From feeding homeless to placing free pianos on our streets, the folks who really make NYC run are the ones behind the scenes at the thousands of do-good organizations here. We want to give a hand to the charities who give so many New Yorkers a hand every day; we’re honored to shine our first charity spotlight on God’s Love We Deliver.
The origin story of God’s Love We Deliver has practically passed into legend, but it bears repeating. It’s 1985: Ronald Reagan is in office, Back to the Future is showing at the multiplex, and the AIDS epidemic is ravaging communities across the country. Ganga Stone, a New York City hospice volunteer, meets Richard Sale, a man so debilitated by AIDS he can’t cook for himself. On her next visit, Stone brings Sale a home-cooked meal. Realizing that Sale’s medical issues mean he needs sustenance that is nutritional and won’t aggravate his symptoms, Stone researches what fare would serve him best. One day, on her way to delivering a meal, the Good Samaritan is stopped by a neighborhood minister, who asks what she is doing. When she explains, he marvels, “You’re not just delivering food. You’re delivering God’s love.” And so the movement was named.
Stone joined forces with restaurateur Jane Best and, like the biblical five loaves and two fish that miraculously fed 5,000, their grassroots initiative burgeoned into a massive charity. By 1987, they were delivering 50 meals a day; that number went up to 250 by 1991. That pales in comparison to the amount delivered today. Each year, the nonprofit provides an average of 1.7 million meals throughout the five boroughs, parts of New Jersey, and Westchester and Nassau counties. God’s Love expanded its mission to include people living with other illnesses, including cancer, severe diabetes, and hundreds of other diagnoses, in 2011.
“In one year, we’ll help 7,000 individuals and we’ll work with 10,000 volunteers,” says Emmett Findley, the company’s head of communications. “Volume is really big here at God’s Love. We do that all with less than 100 staff members, which goes to show how important it is to have a really big volunteer base.” God’s Love has seven registered dietitians on staff to engage in nutrition therapy on a granular level; they tailor each meal to the clients’ specific circumstances—their diagnoses, side effects, medications, allergies, and other dietary needs. “We have two things that we say at God’s Love,” says Findley. “Food is medicine, and food is love.”
Findley doesn’t just handle PR at God’s Love; he began as a volunteer. While a student at the University of Michigan about 12 years ago, he opted to do community service instead of going on a vacation for spring break. (All you Fort Lauderdale hedonists, take note!) “I came with my group for a week to God’s Love, and we worked in the kitchen and delivered meals,” Findley recalls. “I remember my first shift. I got on the van with a driver named Hashim, and we went out to Staten Island. I was just blown away at what God’s Love did, that really personal experience of the driver who knows every client’s name, knows all the tricks about how to get the meal as efficiently as possible to the client: Go up the stairs to the left and down the hall and knock three times, that sort of thing.”
It’s not just about handing a stranger a precooked meal; sometimes there’s a real connection. Findley explains that there’s a range of interactions between volunteers and clients. “There are some people who definitely want you to stick around and have a nice long conversation,” he notes. “There are other people who take that meal as quickly as possible. They’ve got things to do or they don’t have the energy to speak, and we carry on. For those who do want to hang out and have a conversation, it’s always nice to learn a little bit about the client, but we can’t stay too long, because we’ve got meals to deliver.”
What sort of people devote their lives to helping others? “We all have different reasons,” Findley says. “I come from the Midwest; when I moved to New York, people were saying, ‘Oh, you better watch out. You’re going to be in big, scary New York.’ Then I got here and I realized that I was actually surrounded by the nicest, kindest, most generous people I’d ever met.”
Visit God’s Love We Deliver to learn more, volunteer, or donate.