LOS ANGELES — Long-time Project Angel Food employees Tom O’Leary and Terry Madden received surprise proclamations from the City of Los Angeles upon their retirements on Friday, January 30. The honors were presented at a farewell lunch by City Councilmember for the 13th District, Mitch O’Farrell, at Hunter & Charlie’s restaurant, just one block away from Project Angel Food’s Hollywood home, where the agency prepares and delivers 1,400 meals a day to people facing life-threatening illnesses. In attendance were staff, volunteers, Executive Director Richard Ayoub and Project Angel Food board members Bobby Ralston and Diana Bianchini.
Tom O’Leary, Manager of Client Services, worked at Project Angel Food for 17 years, after spending three years as a volunteer. He has been a long-time advocate for people living with HIV and AIDS since the 1980s in Philadelphia, New York, Provincetown, Massachusetts, and in Los Angeles where he worked tirelessly on behalf of clients receiving life-sustaining meals from Project Angel Food. In addition to working at Project Angel Food, Tom is a playwright and pop-culture savant who calls Los Feliz home.
Tom reflects, “We live in a city that manufactures dreams. A city that creates stories for the whole world to see. Invisible to the world and to most Angelinos are the untold numbers of men and women and even children who are homebound and often feel hopeless because of disease. My heart is filled with voices and stories and memories and names and addresses and complaints and compliments and people saying, ‘God bless you,’ ‘You are angels,’ ‘You saved my life.’ And, mothers. Mothers thanking us for giving their sons and daughters more time on this earth.”
“Tom was on the frontlines with our clients and sometimes he was the first person called when a person’s health had taken a turn for the worse or he would look into what was happening when doors weren’t answered, which often meant a client had passed,” says Richard Ayoub. Adding, “Tom handled all the moments, happy and sad, big and small, with compassion, dignity and a heart of gold.”
Terry Madden, who joined the agency in 1998, worked at the front desk, greeting all who entered Project Angel Food with a warm hello. Having worked as a home care provider for people living with AIDS for 10 years, Terry was aware of Project Angel Food’s work because of the delicious meals delivered to his clients by caring volunteers. When a temp agency mentioned Project Angel Food was looking for someone to fill in at the front desk, he agreed. For over two decades, Terry was the first point of contact for clients and volunteers. Over the years Terry had been offered other opportunities to advance within the organization, but he declined them, knowing that to connect with people face-to-face and by phone was his calling.
The Los Angeles City proclamation called the Hollywood resident a “friendly and reassuring guide to anxious and often desperate critically ill people in need of help.”
Ayoub extolls, “Terry exemplifies the spirit of compassion that is the core of Project Angel Food. We will miss his hugs and warmth, but it lives on in the example he set for us all on what it means to be of service to others.”
Since its inception in 1989, Project Angel Food has prepared and delivered 11.5 million meals – currently 12,000 per week – free of charge to men, women and children living with critical illnesses. Project Angel Food has expanded its initial mission from serving people living with HIV/AIDS to include medically tailored meals, prepared by the staff and volunteers, for those combatting cancer, kidney failure, diabetes and congestive heart disease. The mission has always remained intact, to feed and nourish the sick, by delivering healthy nutritious meals throughout 4,400 square miles of Los Angeles County. More than 98% of Project Angel Food clients are living at or below the poverty level, and Project Angel Food is their lifeline, filling a vital need in all communities. The client demographics are testimony to this: 38% Latino, 27% African-American, 24% Caucasian, 6% Asian/Pacific Islander, 1% Native American and 4% Multicultural.