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Project Angel Heart's Dining Out for Life Becomes a Fundraiser to Go

A sampling of what goes into the food bags at Project Angel Heart.
A sampling of what goes into the food bags at Project Angel Heart. Linnea Covington
Every year in April for the past 26 years, hundreds of Denver restaurants have welcomed guests into their dining rooms for one night of eating and giving. Project Angel Heart's Dining Out for Life, when restaurants and bars chip in a percentage of the night's take to fund the organization's mission of preparing and delivering medically tailored meals to people with life-threatening illnesses, has been one of its biggest annual fundraisers.

But this year is different: With dining rooms closed to customers because of the coronavirus pandemic, Project Angel Heart's staff had to find a new way to raise money. And so Dining Out for Life has become Dining IN for Life, at least for this year. Instead of asking hard-hit restaurants barely managing to stay afloat to donate a percentage of one night's revenue, Project Angel Heart is asking you to help restaurants by ordering takeout and then donating a little extra to the organization.

Here's how it works: Plan ahead to order takeout from a restaurant of your choice (see the list of Project Angel Heart sponsors for ideas, though not all of them are currently open) on Thursday, April 30, or as often as possible between now and then, then donate online. Make the whole event social and interactive by taking pictures and videos and sharing them on social media with the #dininginforlife and @projectangelheart tags.

Project Angel Heart is also looking for virtual ambassadors to help spread the word. In normal years, ambassadors choose a restaurant to represent and then invite their social circle (friends, family, co-workers) to dine at the restaurant and greet guests with info about Project Angel Heart. This year, the organization is setting ambassadors up with their own fundraising web pages and asking them to promote a restaurant for takeout and spread the word about donating to Project Angel Heart. You can sign up to be an ambassador on the Dining IN for Life website.

click to enlarge Project Angel Heart executive chef Brandon Foster says everything has changed, but there are still ways to support the organization. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
Project Angel Heart executive chef Brandon Foster says everything has changed, but there are still ways to support the organization.
Danielle Lirette
Brandon Foster, executive chef of Project Angel Heart, says this is a great way to volunteer, since social-distancing requirements and health and safety issues are limiting the number of people who can help with preparing and distributing food to the organization's clients. "We're promoting those same restaurants who have supported us for so long," the chef says. 

Foster explains that his whole kitchen had to come up with new ways of doing things to maintain safety for his staff and Project Angel Heart's clients, and to do it with fewer people. "I have to give a shout-out to my whole kitchen staff for basically turning the whole process upside down," he adds.

One of the measures the kitchen took was to send out an additional two week's worth of shelf-stable food "in the event that something might happen and we'd have to close for a week or two," Foster notes. But even then, the team made sure to work with the organization's dietician to ensure that all of the meals were nutritionally tailored to every client's needs.

To maintain a safe and healthy operation, Foster says he's working with no kitchen volunteers right now and maintaining a no-contact protocol while keeping staff spaced adequately (which meant that some of the kitchen layout had to be reconfigured).

So if you can't volunteer inside the kitchen, you can still give time as an ambassador — to help out restaurants as well as Project Angel Heart.
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation