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God’s Love We Deliver: Food for the Body and Soul

For those too sick to cook or shop, this nonprofit provides nutritious meals that are just what the doctor ordered


spinner image Volunteers working in the God’s Love We Deliver (GLWD) kitchen
Volunteers prep food in the God’s Love We Deliver kitchen in New York City.
Christopher Gregory-Rivera

Early one morning, as on most mornings in this sprawling kitchen in New York City, a small army of people outfitted in hairnets, plastic gloves and aprons are prepping enough food to feed, well, another (much larger) army of people. Over here are trays upon trays of red rice (to go with the Baja fish); over there are additional trays of yellow rice (for the veggie burgers). At the rear of the kitchen are crates of eggplant, edamame and carrots, and enormous kettles of curried lentil and potato soup simmering slowly. An herb garden on the roof turns out a produce section’s worth of fresh chives, parsley, cilantro and basil; three kinds of sage; dill; English thyme; and something called bronze fennel. Bob Marley, piped in, sets the mood.

If you didn’t know better, you might think you were witnessing meal prep at a gourmet restaurant. You’d be about half right.   

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Welcome to God’s Love We Deliver (GLWD), a nonprofit meal delivery service founded more than 35 years ago based on the realization that people who are very sick need nutritious meals. To shine a spotlight on Older Americans Month in May, AARP took a look at this thriving organization that helps so many.

Almost all the people on the dozen or so assembly lines are volunteers working in the service of GLWD’s mission: to provide some 10,500 seriously ill New Yorkers and their caregivers with free meals. And not just any meals.

“We do medically tailored meals (MTM) for people who are too sick to shop or cook for themselves,” says David Ludwigson, president and CEO of GLWD. “In New York City, there’s nobody else who does that. We’re it. If you’re the only one in town doing that, it’s that much more important that we succeed, that we’re always there, that we never have a waiting list, we never turn people away.” (There are 35 other organizations across the U.S. that provide MTM services; see sidebar.)

spinner image President and CEO of GLWD David Ludwigson
President and CEO of GLWD David Ludwigson
Christopher Gregory-Rivera

The beginning of a mission

In 1985, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, a hospice volunteer named Ganga Stone visited a patient who was too ill to cook for himself. On her next visit, she brought a homemade meal — and that’s when it hit her: Something as basic as delivering a meal could mean everything to someone with a terminal illness. She realized, however, that he needed more than just a meal. He needed food that was nutritionally tailored to support his medical treatment.

On her third visit to the same patient — this time armed with a medically tailored meal — she was stopped by a minister in the neighborhood who recognized her. When she told him where she was headed, he said, “You’re not just delivering food, you’re delivering God’s love.”

In that moment, GLWD was born.

In the beginning, the focus was on feeding people with AIDS. Now the organization serves people with more than 200 diagnoses, most over age 50, but the mission hasn’t changed. “We’re still feeding medically tailored meals to people who are too sick to shop or cook for themselves,” says Ludwigson, who has been with GLWD for 26 years, initially as a volunteer. “After about 10 years, we realized we were learning so much about the power of food for people who are sick, so how could we not use that for people with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s?”

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Food as medicine

The idea that food might be “the single best and most simple medical intervention when you’re sick,” as Ludwigson puts it, seems almost unbelievable. The research proves otherwise. 

A 2017 study suggests that receiving medically tailored meals may improve a number of health outcomes for food-insecure people living with chronic health conditions. In a 2019 study of people with type 2 diabetes, 47 percent reported an episode of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) while they were receiving medically tailored meals, versus 64 percent while they were not receiving medically tailored meals. That’s not all.

If you’re on a medically tailored meal program, you’re 70 percent less likely to go to the ER. And if you do go,and are admitted, you’re 72 percent more likely to be discharged to your home instead of a nursing home.

Proof the mission is working? GLWD clients like Barbara Devaney, a 91-year-old cancer survivor who weighed 88 pounds when she began receiving meals from GLWD; three and a half years later, she’s back to her “normal” weight of 110. Every Friday morning, Dite (short for Aphrodite) Pipilis, a 53-year-old volunteer with GLWD, does a walking delivery of food to 10 or so clients, including Devaney.

spinner image GLWD client Barbara, 91, in her apartment
Client Barbara Devaney, 91, raves about GLWD’s “absolutely wonderful” meals.
Christopher Gregory-Rivera

Pipilis discovered food as medicine to treat her own health conditions — including rheumatoid arthritis and neuropathy — before she’d even heard of GLWD. “There was a period of time when I was trapped in my apartment and needed everything delivered,” she says, as she rings the bell at Barbara’s apartment. “So I understand exactly how the clients feel: not being able to leave home, not seeing people, not feeling well.”

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Nourishing a friendship

“How are you? How was your week?” Pipilis says, as Devaney opens her door.

“Very good,” Devaney says. “I see you brought some goodies.”

“Always.”

As Pipilis attaches the bag of meals to Devaney’s walker (the number and frequency of meals vary from client to client), what’s immediately clear is that this is far more than a meal drop-off. Over the years, the two women have become friends.

spinner image GLWD volunteer Dite Pipilis carrying a meal delivery bag
Friday food deliveries gave volunteer Dite Pipilis “purpose” during the pandemic.
Christopher Gregory-Rivera

“This is how it started,” says Devaney. “One day Dite left my apartment and was going through Washington Square Park when the cherry blossoms were in bloom.  She took a video and sent it to me — and I played it so many times, it was just wonderful. Since then, she’ll take pictures on her travels — she travels a lot — and send them to me. I call them ‘Travels with Dite.’ ”

These meal deliveries, especially throughout the COVID quarantine, helped both women deal with loneliness and isolation. “Food is medicine but so is community, so is engagement,” says Pipilis, who admitted that the volunteer job kept her “sane” during the pandemic. For her part, Devaney, whose relatives mostly live in Pennsylvania and Virginia, looked forward to the “engaging conversations,” as she says. “It made the week to have someone to talk to.”

As the two women catch up on each other’s lives, this also becomes clear: The nourishment from God’s Love We Deliver can take many forms.

Healthy Meals Yield Better Health Outcomes

Although God’s Love We Deliver is the only nonprofit in the New York area providing medically tailored meals, there are a dozen or so other nonprofit organizations across the U.S. that do the same. These include:

  • ​Project Angel Food​ Cooks and delivers healthy, delicious meals and offers nutrition counseling — all free of charge — to people in Los Angeles County with serious illnesses.
  • Food & Friends Provides free medically tailored meals and nutrition counseling to people in Washington, D.C., living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-challenging illnesses.
  • Community Servings​ Prepares and delivers 15 medical diets for families impacted by critical or chronic illness throughout Massachusetts.​
  • Open Arms​ Prepares and delivers nourishing, made-from-scratch meals free of charge to critically ill people in Minnesota.

For a list of other medically tailored meal providers across the U.S., visit the Food Is Medicine Coalition

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