The opportunity to meet Los Angeles cabaret and special event producer Clifford Bell arrived two weeks ago. He was, as usual, in the thick middle of things up to all kinds of good and he was surrounded by eleven people whom he had gathered to donate their time and talents in behalf of Project Angel Food in Los Angeles, California. The occasion was the 17th Annual Gathering of Angels on April 9, a brunch celebrating all the volunteers for Project Angel Food, held at The American Legion Hollywood Post 43 in downtown Los Angeles.
So many people are aware of this exceptional organization and its mission, but for those who are new to its purpose, back in 1989, at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, so many people wanted to help, but didn’t know what to do. Before fear was replaced with education, and prior to medicines, money for research, and various optimistic and progressive medical treatments were being developed, there was a sense of chaos and crisis among those affected by the disease and all who knew and loved them.
Marianne Williamson, a petite and powerful woman of action who possesses supreme motivational gifts and the ability to think clearly in any crisis, had “the” answer to the question on everyone’s minds: “What can we do to help?” Her answer: “Food. Everyone needs food. That’s what we can do,” as Clifford Bell explained that day.
Starting from the name Los Angeles Center for Living, Marianne, together with spiritual publisher and beacon for positivity, Louise Hay, and David Kessler held the initial fundraiser and generated $11,000 instantly, sufficient to launch lunch programs for drop-ins, and to begin the process of taking the food to the homebound. The following year they began their kitchen operating out of Crescent Heights Methodist Church. Now, some 25 years later, Project Angel Food can be proud of having served its 10,000,000th meal to anyone who has a terminal illness, in addition to AIDS.
Through the years, as the nonprofit’s name officially changed to Project Angel Food, virtually every Hollywood luminary (from Elizabeth Taylor to Barbra Streisand to David Geffen to Barry Diller, who gave lead gifts for a new kitchen in 1994), has been a part of philanthropic giving to this effort.
As just one example, actress Pauley Perrette of CBS’ number one prime time drama, “NCIS,” has been a prolific and supportive Board of Directors’ member, as she regularly posts on her Twitter account about the group and has encouraged donations to the organization on many talk shows where she guests.
The organization’s Board of Trustees includes founder, Marianne Williamson, Chantal Westerman, David Geffen, David Kessley, Edward L. Rada, Elizabeth Taylor (in memoriam), Judith Light, Loreen Arbus, Paris Barclay, Ron de Salvo, Ronald W. Burkle, Sandy Gallin, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Vicki Iovine.
Now, forget the celebrities. Forget the who’s who of philanthropy, and focus on the people who are the clients of this dynamic organization. That’s what everyone’s goal is who serves this organization in any capacity, whether volunteer or stellar performer at musical fundraisers that Clifford Bell directs. Sit for a moment and reflect about what it means for this group to have served 10,000,000 meals to those in need. Twenty-five years, 10,000,00 meals, or 400,000 meals per year, roughly 1,095 meals each day.
That’s why 17 years ago, the organization began honoring their volunteers as the true stars of the organization and its amazing achievements. The organization’s permanent administrative home is located at 922 Vine Street, thanks to lead gifts from Wallis Annenberg, Wells Fargo Foundation, Keck Foundation, MAC AIDS Fund, and the Ahmanson Foundation.
None of the major donors seek nor need attribution, but still it’s most important to know that as many people who are out in front of an organization being the workforce can only operate when funding is in place from supportive, visionary leaders, not all of whom may understand what it’s like to be sick or hungry but who do understand how to give from their hearts, generously.
This, then, brings us back to the heart of Clifford Bell, who was born a do-gooder from the very start but who prefers being the kingmaker behind the scenes. From San Diego to Los Angeles to parts in between Bell has a rich history as an entertainer, manager, and show producer. His own creation, “Cabarabia” is a relatively new moniker to some, but to those deeply seated in the LA Jazz world, it’s the intersection of cabaret and jazz, which Clifford contends is the perfect home to showcase established celebrity singers as well as introduce fresh new faces to audiences before anyone else does. And he does.
Take for example the “Gathering of Angels” thank-you to volunteers event for Project Angel Food held two weeks ago at the American Legion. Clifford made a few phone calls requesting some of his friends to join him downtown on a Saturday afternoon, and starting with Musical Director Steve Rawlins, he featured Kiki Ebsen, Keith Borden, Tiffany Bailey, Jane Kinsey, Steve Masterson, Alex Boling, Emma Weisbach, and Alex Mohajer, plus Tim Butterworth brought all the backline for the artists as his gift.
On hand from Project Angel Food were Robert Boller, Richard Ayoub, Interim Executive Director, and Joe Mannix, Board Member. The focus was on the volunteers who made the difference “six days a week, whether cooking or delivering meals, making bracelets, filling cookie containers, or helping with administrative work.” Master of Ceremonies was Mark Cirillo, who told a very moving story about performer Keith Borden.
Borden is host of his own show, “Soulful Sundays with Keith Borden & Friends,” but he is also a longtime volunteer driver and meal deliverer for Project Angel Food. It was not much before the volunteer recognition event that Borden had been called into the home, by family members, of one of his regular clients, who just wanted to spend a little extra time with Keith that day.
The client was, when Keith entered, lying on the floor, all stretched out, rather than sitting upright in a chair. The man said, “Join me down here, please, Keith.” Borden did, and as they both lay there side by side for thirty minutes, they exchanged some conversation about the usual things, but there was stillness and silence in between.
In those quiet moments, Keith saw what was missing from the client was the usual scarf he had around his neck each time he’d been there before. With the scarf removed, for the first time Borden saw a massive tumor growth on the side of the client’s neck, and knew instantly what that meant.
A servant’s heart and a loving spirit was what Keith Borden delivered to the client’s home that day. Meeting people where they live, looking them in the eyes, rather than at the tumor, seeing them as people of dignity, deserving respect, delivering hope, friendship, and brotherly love without condition or looking at a watch. The client just wanted thirty minutes. He got that time, with love, from Keith.
Later that week, Borden learned that his client had died, and of course he was moved in many ways. So on Saturday, April 9th, as he sang, “God Bless the Child,” it was amazing that Keith Borden could even get through the song but not only did he “get through the song” as you see in the video here, he gave it his all. That’s what volunteers for Project Angel Food do. Each meal costs $5 to make, including fresh ingredients, cooking, and delivery, per the organization’s web site. But Keith Borden’s gift was worth, clearly, priceless that day, when he showed up, as usual, a man who could be counted on to be there for his client.
After the performance, Borden was modest in accepting all the accolades being proffered that day. He said, “My family in our early years had benefited from some assistance and as a child it was my goal to work to help us get out of that and to help others who were in need and set an example that we could be those who help each other.” Borden succeeded on both fronts, and he sings like the angel he is, to the people he serves in entertainment and in Project Angel Food. You have a chance to hear him on Sunday night.
Those who live near Los Angeles have an opportunity to capture the joy and celebrate the endeavor by attending “Our Name is Barbra 2016,” an evening to benefit Project Angel Food, co-hosted by Scott Evan Davis and Clifford Bell. Last week on The Sheena Metal Experience, on LA Talk Radio, Sheena’s guests were Bell, joined by Jason Graae and Tiffany Bailey to discuss the evening and the reason for the event. Jason was Ms. Bailey’s earliest role model and mentor as a performer, and Bell has, at some level, guided both in his career as a producer and early spotter of talent.
The entire evening will be songs by Barbra Streisand, performed by Scott Evan Davis, Catte Adams, Tiffany Bailey, Keith Borden, Joshua Lance Dixon, Julie Garnye, Jason Graae, Jane Kinsey, Steve Masterson, Dana Meller, Mark Arthur Miller, Alex Mohajer, MaryJo Mundy, Kyra Selman, Patricia Whiteman, David Zimmerson and more.
Special featured guest is the supremely talented Mary Wilson, of the beloved group, The Supremes. Clifford Bell is directing the show, and he might even sing one number himself; he can and he should. Musical co-directors include Michael Colum, Marc Hugenberger on piano, with dynamic Tom Bowe on drums, and Al Garcia on bass for this superb musical backing.
“Our Name is Barbra” takes place at Rockwell’s on April 24 at 7 pm. And for the record, Wayne Elias, of Rockwell Table & Stage, is also on the Board of Directors of Project Angel Food. It all comes around full circle. For tickets, call the box office at (323) 669-1550 or visit www.rockwell-LA.com. Rockwell’s is located at 1714 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027.
It’s Barbra’s birthday, so you should go. She’s personally been a sponsor of this outstanding organization. So you should go. With more than 20 marvelous musicians giving their time to this fantastic benefit, you should go. Tickets are only $25. Most of all, it’s for a grand cause, a benefit for Project Angel Food. Make a difference, just like Keith Borden does. Give generously.