Madeline C. is 82 years old and has been a Project Angel Food client since 2019. She has cardiovascular disease, has had two heart attacks and two strokes, and receives our Heart-Healthy Medically Tailored Meals. Wanting to share a harrowing story on the challenges our stroke clients face, our Client Services team recommends Madeline and off we go on a Wednesday afternoon — me, Director of Communications and Talent Relations Brad Bessey, our photographer and Communications Manager Noe Garcia, and our Sri Lankan filmmaker friend, Lakpathy Wijesekara, with his gear. We wind through the narrow roads of Laurel Canyon until we arrive at Madeline’s home, tucked away, secluded, a sanctuary in the hills of Hollywood.
Madeline greets us at the door, a beam of light. With a youthful smile and a glimmer in her eye, she welcomes us like we are long lost friends. She apologizes for “waddling” when she walks due to the strokes as she leads us to her spot in the sunlit living room that doubled as a yoga center up until her stroke in 2017. She is delighted by our company and is joyous, “I haven’t had any visitors in so long. I only see people when I go to the hospital. This is almost overwhelming, but I’m loving it,” she laughs, brushing her free-spirited hair with her hands.
We settle in and Madeline shares her story. She knew of Project Angel Food in the early ‘90s when she was a volunteer and of service to people living with illness — primarily those living and dying with HIV/AIDS. When Madeline became too ill to care for herself four years ago, after her double heart attacks and strokes, she reached out.
“I have no car — and I can’t drive, and I can’t go anywhere. I didn’t know how I was going to eat and what I did was I called Project Angel Food and told them of my situation. I qualified for the program. It’s so wonderful to have a decent, good meal once a day. I can make a scrambled egg in the morning and a piece of toast and some orange juice, but I can’t cook. I can’t stand long enough.”
Having Project Angel Food’s clean, simple, delicious and healthy meals is a blessing to Madeline. She says, “Oh, my God. I don’t have to worry about eating. I don’t have to worry about it anymore.” She particularly likes the African curries, having lived and loved in Sri Lanka decades earlier — she was married there.
Madeline can be defined as a Project Angel Food client living with serious illness. But that’s only a fraction of who this woman is. She’s an artist, a world traveler, a healer, a yogi, a mother, a friend. And yes, she receives our services, but what we receive from her is a positive energy and gratitude that instantly buoys our spirits. We see past her illness to her heart and humanity, and she explains that she’s not about to let her illness define her.
“People say, ‘What can I do?’ My answer is, ‘Keep the energy up. Care about people. Care about earth. Care about the things that keep us alive and happy,’” Madeline says. “That was my lesson when I taught yoga all those years. I would say, ‘Be yourself because you’re uniquely you. There’s no one else like you. If we were all open and loving and kind, the world would work.’”
While we are talking about compassion, I think of our staff and volunteers and ask, “What does it feel like with all these people coming together to make and deliver meals to support your wellness?”
After a moment of reflection, Madeline says, holding her hand to her heart, “It makes me feel secure. There’s a security to it. I think about all the people that are doing what they’re doing and the fact that so many are volunteering and they’re doing it because they know that it’s a good thing to do, to serve. We’re here to serve each other.”
As we say our goodbyes, exchange hugs, and make plans to return with authentic Sri Lankan food from a restaurant Laky knows, Madeline has one last thought to share, “I want you people to know how grateful I am. Gratitude’s a high space and it’s an expansive space. When you’re grateful, you’re expanded. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.”
And we are grateful to Madeline for reminding us that heart health isn’t just about getting exercise, eating more fruits and vegetables, and cutting down on processed foods, but it’s also about appreciating life, saying yes to adventure, being kind, being grateful, and enjoying the miracles that can happen when we open our hearts to others. Noe, Laky, Madeline and I have a date for Sri Lankan food and our hearts are singing in anticipation.