Volume 76, Number 48 | April 25 - May1, 2007

A special Villager supplement

Hospitals, Health & Volunteers

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

In the Westbeth artists’ complex in the West Village on April 23, G.L.W.D. volunteer Kyler James delivered a meal to painter Milda Vizbar.

Improving health and well-being with food and love

By Julie Shapiro

Five days a week, Kyler James sets out across Greenwich Village carrying as many as 10 hot lunches. He strides quickly from one apartment to the next, dropping off free food for people with H.I.V., cancer, multiple sclerosis and other debilitating illnesses.

“It’s a very important part of my day,” James said. “For an hour every day, I get out of myself.”

James is one of 450 people who volunteer each week for God’s Love We Deliver, a nonprofit organization that prepares and delivers food to those who cannot shop or cook for themselves. God’s Love We Deliver — which is not a religious organization — also offers free nutritional counseling. 

On a recent Tuesday, James began his route at Greenwich House, the Barrow St. settlement house, and one of many pickup spots in the city. He loaded paper bags with containers of soup, pork chops, vegetables, bread and fruit cocktail, substituting modified entrees to satisfy clients’ nutritional restrictions.

After several days of heavy rain, the sun broke through the clouds as James headed to his first client of the day, an H.I.V.-positive man named “Robert,” who requested that his real name not be used.

Robert answered the door tired, in sweatpants, after a sleepless night. In addition to having H.I.V., Robert was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease last year, in what he calls a “double whammy.”

Crohn’s causes inflammation of the digestive tract, a condition that incapacitates Robert for days at a time.

“It feels like you’re being poisoned,” he said.

Keeping the diseases in check is a balancing act. Many of the medications used to manage Crohn’s disease also suppress the immune system, which is dangerous when combined with Robert’s H.I.V.

Tall and muscular, Robert sometimes has trouble convincing people that he is sick. Nearly two weeks had passed since his last Crohn’s episode, and he looked as fit as a football player. However, there are days when he can barely crawl to the door to let James in. 

No matter how he’s feeling, he can always rely on receiving meals.

“God’s Love is so great,” Robert said.

After leaving Robert’s apartment, James likes to take the “scenic route” along the Hudson River to Westbeth, a government-subsidized artists’ residential complex. At Westbeth Gallery, on Bethune St., artist Milda Vizbar was waiting.

With black-framed, rose-tinted glasses and gray hair that falls around her shoulders, Vizbar monitors the gallery. Several weeks ago, her monotype prints covered the walls, but now there is a new show, bright, scribbly paintings by Hedy O’Beil.

Vizbar has peripheral neuropathy, a nerve condition that limits her mobility. She started receiving food from God’s Love We Deliver after having surgery for breast cancer last year.

“Kyler is a human connection, which I don’t have many of some days,” Vizbar said, smiling at James.

“You’re my human connection, too,” James replied.

Vizbar, who uses crutches or a wheelchair to get around, isn’t just on the receiving end. She volunteers at the gallery, and used to drive disabled and elderly people around the city.

“We have to give back, because what’s the point of a human being if we don’t give back?” Vizbar said. “It’s what we offer and give to others that counts.”

Meanwhile, Vizbar continues painting and sculpting, inspired by everything she sees, from a piece of cardboard flattened by trucks to an enormous, leafy head of kale.

“Frankly, I don’t have time for cancer,” Vizbar said. “I have so many things I want to do.” 

As James strode across the Village in a scuffed leather jacket, deliveries in hand, he recalled his beginnings at God’s Love We Deliver, back in 1992. He was an actor then, and a teacher suggested that he try volunteer work as part of his “spiritual studies.”

James is now a writer, and is currently sending his novel to agents. Meanwhile, his work as a psychic pays the bills. Through his life changes, his daily work for God’s Love We Deliver has remained constant.

“I wouldn’t just deliver any old food,” James said. “This food is phenomenal.”

The secret, James said, is more than just the center’s Swiss chef, Pascal Segelbacher.

“A mother’s cooking is good because she puts love into it,” James said. “The kitchen people put love in this food.”

Since its founding in 1986, God’s Love We Deliver has served 8.5 million meals, covering the five boroughs and stretching into Hudson County and Newark, N.J. The headquarters, in Soho at 166 Sixth Ave., sport enormous kitchens where volunteers gather as early as 6 a.m. to cook.

In addition to serving daily meals, God’s Love We Deliver also marks clients’ birthdays with freshly baked cakes, and distributes special food and gifts on major holidays.

There are no age or income requirements for God’s Love We Deliver clients — all they need is a doctor’s note. God’s Love We Deliver also provides meals for clients’ children, because otherwise, clients give the meals to their children and still don’t eat, said Gary Snieski, assistant director of corporate and media relations.

“We serve all people who need us,” Karen Pearl, G.L.W.D. president and C.E.O., said. “People who are really sick shouldn’t be hungry.”

For Snieski, it all goes back to the compassion of the volunteers, who outnumber staff members 24 to 1.

The volunteers “make people understand that there are other people in the community who care about them and are there to help them,” Snieski said.

On his April 17 rounds, James’s last stop was Sebastian Pernice’s apartment — a fifth-floor walkup. Colorful stickers on Pernice’s door read “Militant Homosexual” and “Hitler Didn’t Need Warrants Either.”

Pernice, 58, has AIDS and appreciates God’s Love We Deliver for more than just the food.

“They’ve saved my life,” he said. “I’ve been passed out on the kitchen floor covered in my effluents, and [a volunteer] picked me up and called an ambulance.”

Pernice, with a gray mustache and expressive eyebrows, has been on and off God’s Love We Deliver for about 10 years.

“They truly bring you God’s love,” Pernice said. “They’re just like family.”

Pernice’s walls are plastered with maps and pictures of Italy, where he was born, and other European countries he’s visited. He’s planning his next trip to Italy with his partner, Tim Sutton, to see relatives in June.

“I’ll be getting off God’s Love soon,” Pernice said to James at the end of the visit. “You’ll get a postcard from Europe.”

For more information about God’s Love We Deliver, visit godslovewedeliver.org.

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