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The charity hosted its annual fundraising luncheon on the Upper East Side last week

By Helaina Hovitz

On Tuesday, April 9, volunteers and staff joined over 260 guests at the Metropolitan Club (1 East 60th Street) for God's Love We Deliver's tenth annual literary luncheon. The Soho-based nonprofit, which provides 22,000 meals a week to New Yorkers living with severe illnesses, also offers nutritional counseling to patients, family members and caregivers. It's free, and nobody is ever wait-listed.

Originally conceived as a program serving people with HIV/AIDS in desperate financial situations - beginning with the work of one hospice volunteer named Ganga Stone - the nonprofit has since expanded their efforts to serve not just those with HIV/AIDS but people with diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's, and Multiple Sclerosis.

As she waited in line for Danny Meyer to sign a copy of his cookbook - a line that extended to the back of the room - Upper East Side resident Marina Marcoux explained that while she loves delivering meals to eight regulars on Wednesday mornings (when she's in town), she feels like she never has enough time with them.

"We only spend ten minutes with them at most, but you can tell they look forward to the contact," she said. "We're on a strict delivery schedule."

Tuesday's luncheon was emceed by board member and author Linda Fairstein, who founded the Artists in Kind luncheon back in 2003. This year, she invited authors Sandra Brown and New York Times Correspondent John Schwartz to share the love, but the infamous Danny Meyer was the one who stole the show. Best known for restaurants like Shake Shack and the Union Square Café, Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group has been a longtime supporter of the organization, and Meyer himself has lost many of his colleagues to AIDS.

While the event focused heavily on the authors and their books, the focus year-round is on God's Love's clients and the volunteers who deliver and prepare food for them - sometimes beginning their day as early as 3 a.m. Most of God's Love's clientele are poor, with a vast majority living at or below the national poverty level.

Residents like Rachel Larson, 55, who lives on the Upper East Side, are often faced with unmanageable situations once treatments like chemotherapy are underway.

With no energy to shop and takeout being ruled out for bacterial reasons, she began desperately scrambling for an organization that could provide her with the help she needed. Fortunately, she found God's Love, who took the burden off and provided her with everything she needed - and more.

When Larson received a birthday cake with a hand-decorated card, she tried, unsuccessfully, to hold back tears of joy.

"No one else remembered my birthday and the card that the kids wrote brought tears to my eyes. I will never forget it. It made me feel (like) people actually cared," she said. The card she's referring to was made by local city school children.

Relying on 8,000 volunteers and 76 paid staff members, Gods Love's $10 million annual budget is 24 percent funded by individual contributions, and the rest comes from a combination of government funding, grants, and events like Race to Deliver, a run/walk the organization holds in Central Park each year. Danny Meyer's restaurant Gramercy Tavern is always among the top the fundraising teams.

"The work of God's Love We Deliver is blurring the lines between going out to eat and coming home," said Meyer, who also serves on the boards of Share Our Strength and City Harvest. "God's Love goes to peoples' homes and makes them feel like they went out."

Tickets to the Authors in Kind luncheon are usually priced at $500, and tables go for anywhere from $2,500-$25,000. The event has raised $2.5 million to date for impoverished patients who receive something priceless that they can always count on; not only a meal, but a touch of human kindness to go with it.

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