As we head into the holiday season, people think about spending time with family and friends, festive décor, gift giving and, of course, food. For many people, however, such things are scarce, especially food. We introduce you to four people who are helping to feed those in need in our community and helping to spread a little love and care in the process.
Angela Hanson Muesse
Sacramento Area Regional Leader
Pre-pandemic, Angela Hanson Muesse was actively feeding people experiencing homelessness, even going so far as to deliver pizzas to those congregating around City Hall.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down in March 2020, Muesse was at a loss. Then she discovered Lasagna Love, a national organization started in 2020, where volunteers, dubbed Lasagna Chefs, deliver lasagnas (and occasionally other items) to people.
As the Sacramento area regional leader, Muesse not only makes, bakes and delivers lasagnas herself, but helps to coordinate deliveries within the greater Sacramento area and beyond through no-contact delivery. “I’m helping them (other Lasagna Chefs) help. And I love it,” she says.
Requests come from people with home addresses, people staying in motels and even people on the streets. “As long as they can communicate and set up a delivery we can get to them,” says Muesse. Dietary restrictions are accommodated, and requests can be made on behalf of someone else.
Lasagna Love volunteers will bring lasagna to people facing financial hardships or other life stressors that are brought on by the pandemic, such as overworked health care employees, people who have lost their jobs, and homebound people dealing with COVID. “Sometimes it’s poor people and sometimes it’s tired people,” says Muesse. (Requests are limited to once a month.) “This pandemic has been stressful for everybody on all levels and if you ask for some help, we will remind you that there are people here to help you out,” she says. “We’re just nice people wanting to do nice things in this world.”
How you can help: Muesse needs more Lasagna Chefs in South Sacramento and Elk Grove. Volunteers set their own schedules and there is no minimum number of hours required. Go to lasagnalove.org
Co-Founder (along with his wife, Darlene, and son, Raj)
Providing people in need with healthy nutritious food via its BagOfLife program, while also educating the public about good food choices, is the mission of FamilyGreenSurvival, an all-volunteer organization based in Roseville. The organization’s motto: EndLocalHunger.
“Food banks do the best they can, but they are dependent on what people give and what the government gives, and a lot of what they give is not really good food,” says founder Gopal Kapur, a semi-retired management consultant and member of the Roseville Rotary Club.
Kapur worked with nutritionists at Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health to come up with four nutritious, flavorful, easy-to-prepare meals for the BagOfLife program: GrandHotCereal, SoupOfLife, LeanMeanBeanProtein and NuttyQuinoaPilaf. The bags are distributed free through food banks, public service organizations and college food pantries.
Kapur—who wrote a food column for three regional newspapers and co-hosts a weekly podcast with his childhood friend Vinod Chopra, M.D., via Zoom titled “Two Gurus” about, you guessed it, nutrition—has always enjoyed cooking, a pastime he learned from his mother while growing up in India. “My mother, rest her soul, was a very experimental cook,” he says. “We never knew what she was making from what.”
Kapur is tireless when it comes to helping people get good, wholesome food. When one of his BagOfLife recipients stopped receiving the bags through his church, Kapur made it a point to mail it to the man, a veteran who was experiencing homelessness, through a local post office. “We were very fortunate to help someone who served our country,” he says.
How you can help: Donate to familygreensurvival.org. “The need is going to be very high during the holidays,” Kapur says.
President and CEO
Central Downtown Food Basket
When Timothy Baumbach interviewed for the job at the Central Downtown Food Basket (formerly the Central Downtown Food Closet) some 32 years ago, he said he would be hands-on. He’s kept that promise, attending every one of the organization’s fundraisers and distribution events except for one—because he had surgery.
The Central Downtown Food Basket has been offering its mobile distributions since 1999. “We come in, we feed and we leave,” says Baumbach, noting that the mobility of the pop-up distributions allows the organization to complement the work of the larger food banks by going to “food deserts”—be them schools, churches or universities. “We paint the spots that the bigger organizations miss,” he says.
One of the main offerings at the distributions is fresh, local fruit and vegetables, something Baumbach is proud of. “We get the produce to the people and help the farmers at the same time,” he says. And if volunteers come across an item they wouldn’t eat themselves, they won’t serve it to the clients. “If it is rotten or has spots on it, it goes,” Baumbach says. “Just because you are low-income does not mean you deserve low food.”
Baumbach, whose wife of 38 years, Mary, is the program manager of the Central Downtown Food Basket, estimates he puts in an average of 50 hours a week and is accessible 24/7 by phone, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My heart is very deep into this and it always has been,” he says.
How you can help: Make a donation to the Central Downtown Food Basket on Giving Tuesday, which is on Nov. 30, or anytime through cdfb.org. Baumbach will ensure the money is used wisely. “We take every dollar and use it the best way we can,” he says. “People work very hard for the buck and my job is to see how far we can take it.”
Meals on Wheels by ACC
Volunteering with Meals on Wheels by ACC was on Shirley Johnson’s retirement bucket list. When the business tax attorney retired in 2015, she started tackling that list and became a volunteer driver. Some six years later, she continues.
Johnson, who also works as a real estate agent (another bucket list item), is doing more than delivering food when she makes her rounds to program participants, primarily homebound seniors who cannot obtain or prepare meals for themselves. “I will chitchat with them for a couple of minutes to get a feel for how they are doing, and while I am conversing I am observing,” says Johnson. She looks for changes in hygiene, mobility or other concerning factors. “If there is an issue, I will contact the office and let them know. It’s not just dropping the meal off and running off. It’s delivering the meal and checking on them because I may be the only person who sees them that day or that week. I’m there to help them in any way I can,” she says.
Johnson admits that it is hard when she learns a program participant has passed away, but she forges ahead. “I know they are in a better place, and I just keep moving forward and helping other people,” she says.
It’s the relationships she builds with program participants and the opportunity to give back that keep Johnson going. “I gravitate toward the elderly,” she says. “I just believe they are sometimes forgotten as they get older and I think they need more attention.”
How you can help: Donate to Meals on Wheels by ACC’s Project Warm Wishes program. “Financial donations allow us to purchase a simple gift for our participants during the holidays to let them know they are not alone or forgotten during this time of year,” says Michelle Bustamante, Meals on Wheels by ACC’s operations manager. General donations and volunteers are always appreciated. Learn more at mowsac.org.