Before the sun comes up, steam and the rich aromas of soups and sauces are rising from 80 gallon kettles. Meat and vegetables are cooking in ovens, enough to feed 1,400 people in just the first of three shifts of the day.
Volunteer drivers will soon join the cooks, loading thousands of meals into vans, heading out to 50 distribution centers, helping feed those who can’t leave their apartments or cook for themselves because they are ill, elderly, or homebound for other reasons.
On any given day, sprinkled in among the thousands of meals that will find their way to people around New York and New Jersey, will be more than ten birthday cakes — each one hand-decorated, icing spelling out the name of the one person each is destined for. For 25 years, baker Chuck Piekarski has made it his mission that the people he serves are remembered on their special day.
“It’s celebrating our clients and a great moment in their life; letting them know that someone is thinking about them,” Piekarski said.
The nonprofit God’s Love We Deliver (GLWD) started out providing nutritious meals for people with serious illnesses that left them unable to take care of themselves, assuring that people in poor health had healthy meals to eat.
When GLWD first added desserts, they were deliberately high in calories to help clients, many of whom struggled with HIV/AIDS at the time, gain weight. Today, the desserts are mostly low-calorie, and only the birthday cakes feature sugary icing.
“Sometimes, our attitude has a lot to do with our health,” Piekarski said. “The cakes make people smile, make them happy, make them feel like part of the community and part of the world.”
GLWD’s drivers and volunteer delivery people also look in on clients to make sure they are safe or just have someone to talk to for a while.
Over time, drivers would bring along birthday cakes to some of their stops when they knew it was a client’s special day. Then, in 1991, Piekarski — which happens to be Polish for “Baker” — decided every client deserved a personal cake. He’s made sure each client has received one for 25 years since. That’s more than three-thousand names written in icing every year — more than 60 a week.
“It is personally made for them,” Piekarski said. “I make them at the end of the shift and think about the client as I’m making their cake.”
It’s an added touch that means as much to a client’s spirit as the meals themselves mean to their physical health.
The simple gesture adds up to a lot of expense for a nonprofit — costing more than $30,000 a year—so GLWD is in the midst of an annual, virtual bake-sale to raise money for the cakes. Ten dollars can sponsor a single cake.
GLWD was born from hospice worker Ganga Stone’s single neighborly visit to an HIV patient in 1985. He was too weak to cook for himself, and Stone realized how something as simple as having a meal delivered to him could restore his humanity and dignity, if only for a while.
More than 30 years later, Piekarski’s cakes feed that same need, reminding people who struggle through their best days that someone remembers and cares about them – and giving them a reason to smile.
Photos courtesy of God’s Love We Deliver.Share this article: