This story is part of HuffPost Impact's 12 Days, 12 Cities, 12 Families series, highlighting Americans who have persevered to overcome incredible challenges and the nonprofits that helped change their lives.
Project Angel Heart began in Denver in 1991 with one pan of lasagna. It was donated to 12 clients with life-threatening illnesses, many of them infected with HIV/AIDS, who didn't have the strength to leave their homes. It's since evolved exponentially, and in 2008, they delivered over 400,000 meals to over 1,600 clients -- for free.
Today, the Denver-based group serves over 800 people with food each week, and prides itself on providing not only free, but nutritious, meals for those in need.
I spoke on the phone to William, a Denver resident who suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), diabetes, Eosinophilic Granulomatosis and other illnesses. An airline captain with United Airlines for 25 years, he was forced to retire because of his health conditions, and still struggles with not being able to work.
"It was maddening, infuriating, disappointing," he said. "I thoroughly loved my job. I loved the exotic places I got to go and the things I got to do. In what other job can you fly to Singapore and then they make you stay there for three days, all expenses paid? And now...the ironies of life. I can fly anywhere I want for the rest of my life for free, but I can't get on an airplane."
He worked right up until the day his diagnosis forced him to quit. He hasn't worked since 2000 and began receiving meals from Project Angel Heart in February 2008. He is only mobile through a wheelchair, as his condition makes him out of breath after about 20 steps.
He had never heard of Project Angel Heart until it was recommended to him by a health care professional. He knows that many others like him suffer with illnesses, and he feels extremely lucky.
"It's been such a godsend," he said. "To be able to come home and just grab some meals out of the refrigerator and pop them in the microwave and have dinner ready in 10 minutes for four people -- it's such a godsend for all of us to have this wonderful nutritious food so readily available without [my wife] having to spend hours in the kitchen. It makes such a difference."
Project Angel Food is almost entirely volunteer-driven. Volunteers acquire the ingredients, prepare the meals, and deliver them to clients. (Yesterday, clients got a special meal for Christmas, including roast beef with horseradish sauce and gravy, mashed potatoes, and brown sugar glazed carrots.)
"It's nice to see a different smiling face at the door each Saturday," William said. "They bring all sorts of things. They bring entrees and desserts and soups and breads and cookies. The sacks are decorated by young folks. We get some real beautifully colored sacks."
If you're in the Denver area, you can sign up for one of the upcoming orientations and becoming a volunteer. If you're elsewhere and aren't planning any Rocky Mountain road trips anytime soon, make a donation to Project Angel Heart and contribute to their continuing success, providing the ill with nutritious meals.