Q&A with Volunteer Janice Hugener


Project Angel Heart clients have said that getting decorated meal bags feels like receiving special greeting cards. Last year, volunteers donated more than 24,000 hours of their time to decorate nearly 50,000 meal bags. We caught up with Project Angel Heart Volunteer and Artist Janice Hugener to learn about her experience decorating meal bags.

Q: How long have you been decorating bags for Project Angel Heart? How did you learn about it?

One of Janice’s meal bags

A: I have been following the Denver food scene since we moved here from San Francisco five years ago. In July 2020, I read a 5280 Magazine article concerning the death of Project Angel Heart Executive Chef Brandon Foster. His story and the description of Project Angel Heart’s mission was compelling, and a quick Google search led me to the volunteer portal on Project Angel Heart’s website. When I read about the meal bag decoration program, I knew instantly that it was a good match for me. Retrieving art supplies that had not seen the light of day since our move, I drove to Colorado Springs and picked up my first set of five bags. After spending several hours sitting on our back porch, staring at the blank bags and wondering whether this was a good idea, I sat down in our garden and started drawing for the first time in 20 years. The flow of line and color came back faster than I expected, and I was immediately hooked. I have been working up Project Angel Heart bags ever since.

Q: What interests you about our bag decorating program?

Janice Hugener meal bag with cut apples
Another of Janice’s creations

A: After decorating bags in solitude for several months and as COVID restrictions started to ease, in February 2021 I added volunteer shifts in the Project Angel Heart kitchen to my schedule, which led to additional volunteer opportunities in distribution. I immediately fell in love with the diversity of images I saw while bagging meals and was saddened by the number of blank bags that passed through the lines. I like to think that my bags, each of which takes about five hours to create, bring a smile to clients and volunteers.

Q: Do you use real fruits and veggies as models for your art pieces?

A: My first fifty bags featured botanicals: some flowers, but predominantly colorful drawings of seasonal fruit and vegetables. With an undergraduate degree in studio arts (oil painting and illustration), I was trained to draw and paint actual landscapes and still life compositions as well as render images inspired by photographs and museum exhibits. My meal bags reflect this training: when the weather is nice and the light is good, I am generally outside drawing from real life objects; when the weather turns or the natural lighting is flat, I work from computer images. During 2022, one of my goals is to increase the number of bags drawn from real life subject matter (even when the weather and light is not cooperating).

Q: What do you enjoy about decorating meal bags?

A: Decorating meal bags has given me an opportunity to reconnect with my artistic roots. I have rediscovered the simple pleasure in walking through a farmers’ market or grocery produce aisle and picking out fruits and vegetables with interesting shapes, textures, and colors, creating an interesting composition, and then crafting a unique image on a bag. I love sitting down to work on a bag and getting so caught up in the flow of the process that several hours pass before I look up. I also love that I can work on the bags in the wilds of Cherry Creek State Park, Quincy Reservoir and Rocky Mountain State Park while my husband and son fly fish nearby. 

Q: Is there anywhere else our community could possibly see your artwork

A: I recently started designing artwork for the blank stationery cards Project Angel Heart staff use to communicate with donors and clients inspired by meal bag drawings. Concurrently, I am working up a separate portfolio of drawings to shop to local art galleries, enter into various art competitions, and post on social media.

Interested in decorating meal bags for neighbors in need? Learn more here.

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