IMPACT
12/15/2014 12:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Chronically Ill Mom Forced To Choose Between Medicine Or Food Gets Help From Nonprofit

Christian Grattan Photography

Dahlia said she wasn't the type of person who'd ask for help -- the hardworking mother of three had had a job since she was a teenager, after all.

But her outlook changed after she collapsed in October 2011. Diagnosed with lupus -- a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause pain and inflammation throughout the body -- Dahlia had nerve damage in her hands and feet, and had to use a wheelchair for days. She could no longer do the tasks that kept her family running, like cooking and cleaning, nor could she do simple things like brushing her teeth.

"Disaster -- that’s one way I could put it," the 47-year-old, who chose not to share her last name, told The Huffington Post. "I cried every day. In the hospital, in rehab, I’d see the doctor and just start crying, because even though I couldn’t get up and I couldn’t help myself, I found myself telling the doctor that I have the children at home to take care of, and I need to go home."

Dahlia went from full days of cleaning, cooking for her son and working evening shifts at a group home, to feeling utterly helpless.

"I was home -- can’t cook, can’t walk, can’t help myself, bills piling up," she said. "Everything was just falling apart."

With an empty kitchen and nowhere to turn, Dahlia said she called nonprofit God's Love We Deliver out of desperation. Now she's one of its roughly 5,000 clients living with a chronic or critical illness who receives meals delivered to their doorstep year-round, free-of-charge.

"I am so grateful, I can’t even express myself," Dahlia said. She receives 10 meals a week for herself, while her 10-year-old son receives 10 meals and five snacks a week. (Her other two children are adults and do not receive meals or benefits from the nonprofit.)

Founded in 1985, the organization was originally created to fight hunger among HIV/AIDS patients in New York City. Now the nonprofit serves people with about 200 different diagnoses, including Alzheimer's disease, all types of cancers, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.

And its impact is only "growing, growing, growing," Karen Pearl, president and CEO, told HuffPost. According to her, God's Love serves 76 percent more meals than it did seven years ago.

"It's not necessarily because there’s more need," she said. "But because we’re finding more people who need us."

According to research conducted by the Food Research and Action Center and Children’s Healthwatch, individuals with chronic diseases, like Dahlia, are often forced to make difficult decisions between purchasing medicine to treat their illnesses and buying food to eat. Before becoming a client at God's Love, Dahlia said she had to rely on the kindness of friends who'd drop off food -- after losing her job and health insurance, she didn't have enough money to adequately feed herself and buy "very expensive" medicine.

Those with chronic diseases are also less likely to be able to afford foods that support immune system health, which is why God's Love prepares all of its nutritionally balanced, low-sodium meals in its own kitchen.

But as its name suggests, the group does more than alleviate physical needs, according to Pearl -- especially this time of year.

"The holidays can be very, very lonely and isolating," she said. "And having people come and visit, and drop off not only delicious food but gifts and a lot of cheer, and just say, 'We’re thinking about you, and there are people out here who really care about you' -- it makes a difference to people."

On Christmas Eve, about 1,000 volunteers from the organization will serve more than 3,000 winter feasts to clients in the Greater New York City area -- a holiday tradition that has continued since the organization's inception. In festive boxes decorated by local school children, clients will have multi-course meals -- with foods like Cornish game hen stuffed with wild rice and New England corn chowder -- dropped off at their doorsteps. They'll also be provided with a "blizzard box" filled with nonperishable foods, in case harsh weather prevents deliverers from making a stop at their home in the coming months.

Dahlia, who currently doesn't have a job and receives disability and food stamps, said she's not sure where she and her son would be without God's Love We Deliver.

"To have someone come knock on my door and give me an already prepared meal has meant the whole world to me," she said.

To sponsor a winter feast holiday meal by God's Love We Deliver, click here. To learn more about the organization's volunteer opportunities on Christmas Eve, click here.

This story is part of series called 12 Days Of Giving. Huffington Post Impact, Religion and Parents have teamed up to feature stories from 12 families in need over 12 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Read more here.

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