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From left, Pleasanton Mayor Karla Brown joins Culinary Angels Executive Director Lisa McNaney and Chef Claudia Castillo Holley in the group’s new kitchen site, located at Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch in Pleasanton. Together, they put the final touches on meals for Tri-Valley residents with severe health challenges. (Photo - Culinary Angels)

In December 2020, Culinary Angels – an organization that provides nutrient-rich meals and nutritional education to people going through a serious health challenges like cancer – announced they were expanding into the commercial kitchen at Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch to provide meals to ranch residents and other recipients.

Prior to this announcement and for the past three years, Sunflower Hill – a residential community and program for adults with developmental disabilities – had donated organic produce from their garden to Culinary Angels for their meals.

“The move to Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch was based on a desire to grow and be able to feed more people in need more often,” said Lisa McNaney, founder and executive director of Culinary Angels. “It also allows us the opportunity to expand our partnership with Sunflower Hill, which is one of our garden partners. We receive the majority of our organic produce from two local gardens, Fertile Groundworks and Sunflower Hill. Our menus are based on what is grown seasonally, and we are grateful to be able to have this access and support our community in this way.”

McNaney, a cancer survivor and the mother of a young cancer survivor, founded Culinary Angels in 2016. Both Fertile Groundworks and Sunflower Hill Gardens donate most of the produce used in Culinary Angel’s meals, which use only organic and locally cultivated vegetables and fruits. Maintaining good nutrition during chemotherapy and other cancer and medical treatments is critical to maintain strength, energy and a healthy body weight.

Between 2017 and the present, Culinary Angels prepared and delivered more than 4,000 meals to local residents. The need is growing as more people are diagnosed and learn of their services. Some 45 volunteers assemble to prep, cook and package meals. These volunteers are all required to pass a state accredited course on food handling and safety.

“We are excited to further our collaboration with Culinary Angels from donating produce to support their recipients to partnering together, so they can utilize the new commercial kitchen at Irby Ranch,” said Edie Nehls, Sunflower Hill executive director in a joint press release. “We are thrilled that they, in collaboration with Chef Claudia, the Sunflower Hill kitchen manager, will be creating nutritious and delicious meals for residents who choose to opt into the meal plan. We can’t wait to see what Chef Claudia cooks up!”

Since the organization’s formation, community support for their efforts has been overwhelmingly encouraging, according to McNaney.

“The public reaction when they learn about our efforts is very positive,” said McNaney. “We are a local nonprofit that is directly serving our Tri-Valley community. Meals are delivered free of charge throughout Livermore, Dublin and Pleasanton. The caregiving aspect is unique, in that the focus is typically on the person that is ill, when in fact, the caregiver is the one who feels both helpless and responsible. We are a conscious organization that creates meals full of life-supporting ingredients and educates through our meals. Our website serves as a great resource for our recipes.”

To volunteer with Culinary Angels, a person must be 18 years or older and complete a food handlers certification class.

“I had cancer myself and knew how much firsthand caregivers give up to assist and help their family members or friends who are going through treatment,” said John Carter from Livermore, a volunteer with Culinary Angels. “I had been looking for an organization to volunteer my time, and this felt like the perfect fit.”

Given the impact such organizations have on their communities, Carter strongly encourages anyone with the desire to give to join him in volunteering.

“These organizations are priceless,” he said. “I honestly do not think people of our community realize Culinary Angels exist until they are put into a position of needing services to assist with caregiving. The emotional support of receiving such a nutritious meal and knowing that you will receive this every week cannot be put into words. You never know when you will be the one needing assistance. Due to job loss, illness, death, accidents, natural disasters, there might be a time where you will depend on others to get through a difficult period.”

In addition to support from other groups, churches and citizens, Culinary Angels also gets backing from local politicians as well. Pleasanton’s Mayor Karla Brown stopped by the organization’s new facility recently to help out and promote their good work.

“Cancer survivors and other seriously ill Tri-Valley residents are fortunate to have caring nonprofits such as the Culinary Angels to support them as they go through their difficult challenges of beating their diseases,” said Brown. “Many of my family members have been personally affected by breast cancer, including my mother, my sister and my daughter. (This group) delivers healthy and organic food to Tri-Valley residents, and their name says it all – Culinary Angels.”

For more information or to volunteer, visit www.culinaryangels.org.