Mike Aiello, foreground, and Elga Iyoko package meals at the Organic Dish in Boulder.
Mike Aiello, foreground, and Elga Iyoko package meals at the Organic Dish in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera)

If you've ever faced a family crisis — caused by illness, death or prolonged medical treatment, you know how deeply appreciated help can be.

For those with lots of family locally or a large network of friends, the pieces often fall into place due to the hard work of others. But for those who have fewer resources or a prolonged illness, services are available both free of charge or at a price.

Here are three local agencies that may be able to help fill the gap, depending on the circumstances.

Organic Dish, theorganicdish.com, 303-736-9930

The Boulder-based company makes frozen meals that serve two to three people, ranging in price from $20 to $30. Depending on the meal, it can be reheated on the stovetop, in the oven, in the microwave or even in a slowcooker, in some cases. With a few exceptions, the ingredients are organic. Those that aren't are listed on the company's website. About 60 percent of the company business is delivery, in a zone that includes all of Boulder County, Denver, Golden and as far south as Highlands Ranch.

About 20 percent of the company's business is in Good Food Accounts, which are set up for those with needs.

"Eighty percent are for people who are grieving or for an illness, but it's not all bad news," says Dan Sorrells, who co-owns the business with his wife.

Some accounts are set up for people who have a new baby in the family. Sorrells says Good Food Accounts are typically set up by people wanting to help, but who don't have time to cook. People can contribute any amount, so co-workers sometimes set up an account. Another advantage is that out-of-town family can donate through the company's website. If part of the account is not used, it can be donated to others. Accounts average about $200 to $300, but Sorrells says an account set up for a Longmont romance author who is undergoing cancer treatment hit the $6,000 mark.

Many of the meals tend to lean toward ethnic cuisines. Red lentil coconut soup is the best seller, and other popular items include Caribbean chicken and citrus chili pork.

"I grew up in New Orleans, grew up cooking, and I brought some of that," Sorrells says. "I like bold flavors."

However, he works with NatureMed, a local practice that provides complementary therapies to cancer patients, and he learned that chemotherapy can sometimes change people's tastebuds. He has worked to have diverse enough offerings for people to find what appeals to them.

Meals on Wheels of Boulder, mowboulder.org, 303-441-3908

Most people are familiar with Meals on Wheels as a service that delivers to seniors who have a hard time leaving their homes. But the organization also offers a service called Project Homecoming that delivers five days worth of meals for free to anyone recuperating from a hospital stay.

Sally Sandoe says the program can be especially helpful for those who must adhere to restricted diets such as no added sodium or sugar.

"Sixty-three percent of meals to our general client population are defined as special," she says.

She says that the kitchen can also take special requests, such as no broccoli, if it has advance notice. In the last few years, Meals on Wheels has worked to add more fresh vegetables and fruits to its menus and make the flavors more diverse to please the wave of baby boomers who will soon be needing services.

Many patients don't hear about the service until the talk to the discharge nurse.

"We like to have 24 hours notice, but we've been known to fudge that if it needs to happen faster," Sandoe says.

After the free meals have run out, clients may ask to stay on the service for a fee. Most stay on three to five more days, although some stay longer.

There with Care, therewithcare.org, 303-447-2273

There with Care is a nonprofit that deals specifically with the families of critically ill children, taking care of roughly 100 families a week, according to Jodee Spalding, director of volunteers.

The organizations finds families through the referrals of hospital social workers and works to help with the needs of the entire family. The group just hit the milestone of caring for 1,500 families since it was started in 2005. Spalding works with roughly 700 volunteers to administer 20 programs.

"Low income is not a criterion for care," Spalding says. Rather, it's the extent of the support system a family has, as observed by the social worker.

"A great (number) of families are not having their everyday needs met," she says. "That's what our focus is."

The needs filled can be as diverse as finding a service to mow the lawn of the family to having a volunteer sit with a sibling in the hospital waiting room.

"The child that is sick is likely getting the most attention," Spalding says. "The siblings are called shadow children in the industry. They are lost and confused. The whole fabric of their family has been torn apart."

There with Care uses services donated by local businesses and finds families who need them. Housecleaning, especially for families with a child whose immune system is compromised, is one such service. A volunteer might walk the family's dog when the child is in the hospital and parents are staying there. too. Donations from Community Food Share, Door to Door Organics, Organic Dish, Horizon, Chipotle and Rudy's Bakery help to feed families who need food. In addition, There with Care also offers help to families bringing home a baby that was born premature.

"It's usually so premature that the mom hasn't had a baby shower," Spalding says. "It has clothing for the next six to eight months, toys, burp cloths, bottles, pacifiers, books. There's always a stuffed animal on top. We bring those on discharge day. We also might be bringing a new car seat or (supplying) a crib."

When families are better able to take care of themselves, they are weaned gently off the service, Spalding says.

"If a story has a sadder ending and turns terminal, we will be there through the funeral and beyond," she says. "Until the family can stand on its own feet."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Cindy Sutter at 303-473-1335 or sutterc@dailycamera.com