From natural disasters to house fires, when no one else is there to help, nonprofits tend to answer the call. But with a reliance on donations and volunteers, it has been difficult for some to keep up their level of work during the pandemic.
When asked how he has been doing 10 months into the pandemic, nonprofit CEO Owen Ryan simply said he did not know how to answer that question.
“April was fine. May was OK. When it was June, we were all a mess. It was rough,” he said.
Ryan heads Project Angel Heart, a Colorado-based non-profit that provides meal delivery services to ill patients who are at home.
Prior to March 2020, most of their clientele consisted of cancer patients and those battling illnesses that prevented them from sourcing their own food. After the pandemic hit, Project Angel Heart picked up servicing recovering COVID-19 patients who were in quarantine, all while cutting their volunteer staff by hundreds because of social distancing efforts.
“We went from around 11,000 meals per week to more than 30,000 meals per week in mid-April,” said Ryan. “At the same, we had to cut our volunteer staff from 500 to basically zero.”
“You could just feel the stress,” added Jane Garmyn.
Garmyn is a retired nurse who has been volunteering at Project Angel Heart for six years. One of the “core 40” who continued working despite the cuts to volunteers she helps package and organize meals before they go out for delivery to Denver’s suburbs.
Garmyn says as the pandemic continued, the nonprofit underwent a change in its dynamic. Workers, who had always been friendly, she said, started opening up more and relying on one another as a source of comfort during a time when many were unable to see or visit family and friends.
“Crying at work became OK at work this year,” joked Ryan.
“It hits very home, so that’s why I get a little choked up,” said Garmyn. “I lost my step-mom [to COVID], and she was back home in Minnesota. Maybe the people that I’m feeding and caring for [at Project Angel Heart] is somebody’s loved one that they can’t care for. So, it feeds my heart and my soul to be able to take care of somebody else’s loved one like I had to rely on somebody to take care of my mom. So, that’s what this place allows me to do.”