There were few people in San Francisco who more completely lived the motto of Margaret Mead: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Ruth Brinker saw a need and filled it. And boy, did she ever.
From Tom Nolan, Executive Director of Project Open Hand, on that organization’s website today:
In 1985, having retired from a career in food services, Ruth heard about a neighbor who died of AIDS. She was shocked to discover that malnutrition was as much the cause of her neighbor’s death as the illness itself. She realized that many others living with AIDS were in the same situation and she knew she could do something. Ruth began preparing meals in her kitchen and delivering them to seven people. That number soon grew and others came to volunteer to help her cook and deliver hot, nourishing meals all over San Francisco to people living alone and struggling with a devastating illness. “I didn’t think I was doing anything special,” Ruth said. “I did what anyone would have done under those circumstances.” With this simple act of kindness, repeated day after day with compassion and care, Project Open Hand was born.
When Ruth delivered her meals, she took the time to talk with each person and help each feel loved and cared for. For Ruth, it was more than nutritious, dependable food. It was “meals with love.”
From Ruth’s vision evolved an organization, supported by a generous community and dedicated volunteers and staff, who provide daily nutrition and compassion to some of the most vulnerable individuals in our community: people living with HIV/AIDS, the homebound, critically ill with any serious illness, and seniors throughout San Francisco and Alameda County, totaling over 7,000 people every year. Her vision has gone on to inspire over 100 other organizations throughout the U.S. as well as the United Kingdom and South Africa, bringing people together to provide nutrition with compassion to their neighbors in need.
All of us who knew Ruth and have shared in her work over the years will miss her, but we know that, as long as her vision continues, her wonderful spirit will live on.
San Franciscans will miss Ruth Brinker, but the lives she inspired will live on everywhere on the planet. And the meals delivered by the 100 organizations she inspired will provide survival to those most in need. Thank you, Ruth Brinker, for everything you did.
We will never doubt, indeed.