At Saturday night’s anniversary gala at the organization’s Hollywood headquarters, she explained the link between the nonprofit and her daughter, India Emma: “I always know how old Project Angel Food is because the first fundraiser was the night she was conceived and the first Divine Design was the night before I gave birth — we’ve partied all along!”
Beyond the laughs, the evening was a somber reflection on the AIDS epidemic. “This city was brash and young,” Williamson recalled of Los Angeles circa 1989. “Once AIDS arrived, there was a level of innocence that would never be the same again.”
These days Project Angel Food provides meals to homebound Angelenos suffering from a variety of life-threatening illnesses but originally it catered to people with AIDS. “When this organization was founded, it was a time of such despair — there was such hopelessness,” she said. “Such devastation.”
Longtime celebrity supporters who were not able to be there in person, such as Sharon Stone, Charo and Whoopi Goldberg sent their regards via video. “We were together in our youth,” Goldberg said on video. “I thought you were the greatest organization on the planet. And I still do because you have all these folks who in their hearts know the right thing to do. And you encourage people to do kind and wonderful things and to look out for each other.”
Judith Light, who has been on the board since 1989, narrated a short film about Project Angel Food’s history. The previous night at the premiere of the “Transparent” finale, she talked to Variety about how polarizing her participation proved to be 30 years ago.
“In the beginning, people wrote me and said, ‘I’ll never watch you again,'” Light recalled. “And I thought, ‘OK. That’s your problem, not mine.'”
But for Light, volunteering seemed like the only possible response to the crisis. “People were dying and you were going to funerals every week,” she recalled. “So many people from an extraordinary community with such passion and creativity and love — a community that carries courage as its middle name.”
Williamson added, “I think of all the particularly young men. When I think of how many men would show up at these early fundraisers in tuxedos, sometimes covered by Kaposi [sarcoma], knowing that this might be the last week of their life,” she said, her voice trailing off.
Also at the event, Jamie Lee Curtis, who honored with Project Angel Food’s Humanitarian Award.
“The thing that was so incredibly cruel about the AIDS crisis is that it attacked young, creative people,” she said.
Curtis was introduced by “Will & Grace” star Sean Hayes, who described his friend as “a powerful force — and that power comes from the fact that she doesn’t seek it. In fact, in true Jamie Lee Curtis form, when Project Angel Food asked to honor her tonight and shine the spotlight on her, she agreed for the sole purpose of reflecting that light back on Project Angel Food, your staff, and your volunteers.”
For Curtis, it was also an opportunity to celebrate a friend who volunteered in the kitchen and later died from AIDS-related complications: Richard Frank, who appeared in “Amadeus.” “He was my heart, my soul … he was here to lend help when it was the beginning of it all.”