In 1985, as a volunteer at Cabrini Hospice, Ganga Stone delivered a bag of groceries to Richard Sale, a man living with AIDS. Upon receiving the bag, he threw it on the floor in frustration. Sale could barely stand– how was he supposed to turn a bag of ingredients into his supper?
The next day, Stone brought Sale a deli-bought meal. The day after that, she personally prepared a meal that was tailored to his dietary needs.
As she walked to Sale’s to drop off the meal, Stone was stopped on the street by a minister, who asked where she was going and what she was doing. Stone told him she was delivering food to a sick friend, to which he replied, “you’re not just delivering food… you’re delivering God’s love.”
Within the year, Stone and her friend Jane Best founded God’s Love We Deliver, a secular New York charity that cooks and home-delivers nutritious, medically tailored meals to people too sick to shop or cook for themselves. At the time, they worked in collaboration with a local restaurant and delivered – mostly by bike – 50 meals a day to those living with AIDS in Manhattan. They grew rapidly to meet the speed and ferocity of the AIDS epidemic.
Almost 40 years later, God’s Love operates out of a gigantic kitchen on Avenue of the Americas, where hundreds of volunteers gather everyday to prepare 13,000 meals for New Yorkers in need. This year, they’re on track to serve 3 million meals to those who are too sick to do so for themselves.
The volunteers move like a team of professional chefs when Emmett Findley, Director of Communications at God’s Love, takes GO Magazine on a whirlwind tour of the bustling kitchen. Nothing is stopping the assembly line of huge-hearted New Yorkers, volunteering their Sunday afternoon to slice, dice, press and pack little parcels of nutritious, delicious love. “Our chefs are doing the cooking, our volunteers are prepping and assembling… when you put it all together, it’s like the hum of an orchestra,” says Findley.
Sunday is prep day: a team is on ground chicken for Wednesday’s spicy meatball dish, another are grating carrots for a slaw, while pairs lug crates of chickpeas across the 10,000sq/ft kitchen. The week’s menu sits on a whiteboard on the wall – roasted pesto salmon, kale burgers, black lentil salad, braised beef with cherries – this is gourmet cuisine, with detailed recipes scribbled alongside: 1 gallon of red wine, 3oz fresh thyme, 1lt lemon juice and 16oz smoked paprika.
“It’s that precision and planning that makes us run so well,” says Findley, “we are constantly thinking, how can I make this simpler for the next person in the next day?”
Families, individuals, friends and colleagues chitchat behind facemasks. “You come in and you never know who you’re going to meet… it’s such a wild group of people; we get to be a hub of what makes New York City great,” says Findley. “I’m so sorry,” he says occasionally, as someone with a vat of soup tries to squeeze behind him. Kids in hairnets who’re on their first shift, are getting shown the ropes by volunteers who’ve been serving God’s Love for 30 years. “We’re really fortunate to have deeply committed people through the width and breadth of the organization… people really believe in what we do,” says Findley, who’s been working at God’s Love for 15 years.
“God’s love has a really special reputation in the community in New York,” says chef Liz Alpern, creator of Queer Soup Night, “because you really know where your money’s going, 10 dollars is a meal, it’s so easy to see that, it’s so easy to be motivated by that, not every organisation can offer you that.”
The smorgasbord of New Yorkers who find themselves chopping board to chopping board at God’s Love every week are integral to their annual mission of delivering 3 million meals to people across the demographics of New York City. “Regardless of age, faith, socio-economic status, where you live… we are here, the qualifier that unites all of our clients is that they’re too sick to shop and cook for themselves,” says Findley.
God’s Love serves people with over 200 diagnoses, 90% of their client base lives with two or more diagnoses, while half have four or more diagnoses. They’re feeding people who may have HIV, plus cancer, plus MS, plus diabetes. It takes a lot of thought and “layering of diets,” as Findley calls it, “to make sure that the person receiving it has the food they need to address their illnesses, their treatments and their preferences.”
There are the obvious life prolonging and health enhancing benefits to this, and also, as Ganga Stone flagged in an interview a few years ago, there are also the psychological benefits of delicious food. “The idea was… a meal that would be so irresistibly good that the people whom we visited who were depressed, very naturally… would find irresistible to eat,” she said.
Since its inceptions – grocery bag, to deli sandwich, to one home-cooked meal for one sick friend – it’s astounding to witness the continued growth of the organization. 400 gallons of soup churn in the kettles (that’s a days serving at God’s Love) while 30,000 entrees sit in one of the walk-in freezers. “We’ve never said ‘no’ to an eligible client,” said Stone back in the 80s, “and we never will.” An axiom confirmed by Findley who states that God’s Love doesn’t even have a waiting list today.
“Anyone can become sick and hungry, anyone can receive a diagnosis that turns their life upside down and changes the trajectory of their life… and we want to be able to be there no matter what, at any moment when someone needs us, we’ll be there,” says Findley. The deep empathy and human-power that launched this organization still drips through every morsel of food, every minute of volunteering and every word of Findley’s.
Ganga Stone, who passed away in June 2021, at the age of 79, is one of those rare individuals who saw a need in her community and met it, disregarding the deadly stigma against the LGBTQ+ community at the time. Stone delivered food yes, but also countless years of life, countless moments of joy, relief and hope, to those who had lost faith in almost everything else.
One walk around God’s Love, it is so evidently clear that God – whatever that means to you – exists in this place, and exists in every stomach they fill to this day. “I needed to be able to make something deeply important happen for human beings,” said Ganga, “and this was it.”
It’s hard to find a New Yorker who hasn’t contributed to the almighty mission of God’s Love We Deliver. For almost 40 years, the organisation has enabled us to positively impact, enrich and prolong the lives of our neighbours. As founder Ganga Stone once said: “there are mentions in every scripture of every tradition that when people are hungry you feed them, that when people are sick you visit them, that you ease the suffering of people in that terrible situation. No matter what, let nothing stop you.”
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