Maximum nutrition is vital for folks fighting serious disease -- exactly when the patient and caregiver are already overwhelmed.
Enter Culinary Angels, which provides two deliveries a month of nutrient-rich meals, using organic, locally grown produce and volunteer help. Now the group is looking for more people to serve and is starting a fundraising campaign to cover costs.
"I have always been a health advocate, and I've loved to cook and to cook for people," founder/executive director Lisa McNaney said. "I really understand the advantages of nutrients and how they affect food."
This helped when McNaney, now 52, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37, and years later when her daughter was diagnosed at 18. Then, her mother died of ovarian cancer, and a dear family friend was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Through these crises McNaney, a Livermore resident, provided nutritional sustenance.
"I stepped in and gave foods I knew they could benefit from," she recalled.
Friends soon were sharing the outreach to others they knew undergoing health challenges.
"Then it just took off," McNaney said. "We started Culinary Angels with five recipients -- and now we have serviced over 4,200 meals to recipients and their caregivers."
Including caregivers distinguishes Culinary Angels from others, McNaney said.
"I have a soft spot in my heart for caregivers," she explained. "It's the hardest job. They feel completely helpless and responsible at the same time. And they are sleep deprived -- that person is really depleted."
When Culinary Angels began in November 2016, organizers spent their first six months kitchen-hopping before someone suggested the First Presbyterian Church in Livermore.
"We are not a faith-based group, but we approached them because we knew if we were going to be bigger we needed a more industrial-type kitchen," McNaney said, "and the partnership was born."
"We also have wonderful partnerships with Sunflower Hill and Fertile Groundworks," she noted. "They supply us with about half of our produce, which cuts our costs in half."
About 95% of meal recipients are actively undergoing treatment for cancer, when good nutrition is critical for keeping up strength and energy and maintaining a healthy body weight. Stanford Health Care-ValleyCare and Kaiser Permanente Dublin help by distributing informational pamphlets to newly diagnosed patients to peruse in the privacy of their homes.
"The people who qualify are those going through a short-term, acute health-care challenge," McNaney said.
Clients receive meals twice a month for six months, which is based on the customary length for chemotherapy treatments.
"We want to be there during this acute time. We check in with them on the 11th delivery, and we might encourage them to stay on a little bit longer," McNaney said. "We hope they will continue eating healthy foods, continuing with the nutritional education they learn from us."
All of the recipes are posted at www.culinaryangels.org.
Culinary Angels is currently serving 175 meals every month throughout the Tri-Valley, with 102 active volunteers plus director McNaney and chef Claudia Castillo Holley.
"Claudia has a master's in holistic nutrition and she comes up with every single recipe based on what the gardens have available," McNaney said. "We offer protein and vegetarian meals."
"We utilize everything we're given," she added. "We make all our own veggie broth, and we blanch, chop and freeze. Claudia is wonderful at using resources -- she's incredibly creative."
Some 45 food preparers, who have passed a state-accredited course on food handling and safety, help to prepare, cook and package the twice-monthly deliveries, which often provide multiple meals.
McNaney said Culinary Angels has hardly missed a beat during the COVID-19 crisis.
"We had a quick pause because the whole campus closed down," she said. "Then we delivered all the organic produce in bag to our recipients."
Soon it was allowed to resume as an essential food organization.
"We haven't had any slowdown in our service, although we have increased our safety protocol and limited the number of volunteers we have in the space," McNaney said. "I am grateful we can continue to feed the people who need it the most. So many are not able to go out with their compromised immune systems."
Culinary Angels has the capacity to serve more, she said, urging people to visit www.culinaryangels.org to learn more.
Money needed for nutritious meals
Culinary Angels recently launched a four-tiered fundraising campaign called Nourish the Need.
"While Culinary Angels is reliant on the thousands of volunteer hours donated by those working in the kitchen and delivering meals, we also have monetary costs that include culinary equipment, food and compostable packaging," founder/executive director Lisa McNaney said. "Nourish the Need donations will help to offset some of these costs at a time when the need is growing and more critical than ever."
The four tiers for monthly contributions are as follows:
* $10 -- which provides one meal to a recipient.
* $20 -- for a meal to a recipient and the caregiver.
* $60 -- meals twice monthly for three months.
* $120 -- meals twice monthly for six months.
Also on tap for the Nourish the Need campaign this fall are a Harvest Chef Cook-Off between chef Matt Greco from Salt Craft restaurant in Pleasanton and Culinary Angels chef Claudia Castillo Holley, and a series of virtual cooking classes by chef Claudia. More details will be released soon.
To donate, visit www.culinaryangels.org/donate. Culinary Angels accepts donations through credit card, PayPal or by check to 4435 First St., No. 142, Livermore CA 94551. Call 243-1211.