Remembering Project Open Hand Founder Ruth Brinker

Remembering Project Open Hand Founder Ruth Brinker

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At the invigorating age of 89, San Francisco AIDS angel Ruth Brinker has died.  Brinker founded Project Open Hand – an organization to assist AIDS patients in receiving access to healthy and nutritious meals they may not have ever had otherwise.

The concept for Project Open Hand occurred quite unexpectedly in 1985 when Brinker, a proud grandmother, discovered that her next door neighbor had succumb to AIDS without being properly fed and cared for leading up to his untimely death. She was shocked to discover that malnutrition played such a heavy and damaging role in the outcome of the virus.

Having retired from a long and successful career in the food industry, Brinker decided to use her talents in the kitchen for good and began fixing meals for seven clients in the area. That number would soon grow exponentially as more AIDS patients, friends and family discovered the community resource they had been so desperately longing for in the early days of AIDS.

Brinker has said of this time, “I didn’t think I was doing anything special. I did what anyone would have done under those circumstances.”

Project Open Hand was the world’s first charity to provide meals to people with AIDS. In 2000, Ruth’s vision for Project Open Hand expanded its mission to provide “meals with love” to people who were homebound and critically ill with any serious illness – not specific to AIDS.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement expressing sadness at the passing of Ms. Brinker. “I am deeply saddened by the passing of Ruth Brinker, a truly inspirational woman who provided nourishment to the sick and dying,” the mayor said.

According to the Project Open Hand website:

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.

Project Open Hand honored Brinker with its Visionary Award (recognizing courage and compassion) in 2010. In her lifetime Brinker also received the National AIDS Memorial Grove and the Jefferson Award. To continue her legacy, the agency will rename its Visionary Award in honor of Brinker.

Brinker died Monday, August 8, 2011 at the Eden Villa Assisted Living Facility in San Francisco. She suffered a series of strokes and the effects of vascular illness. Brinker is survived by her daughters Lisa Brinker and Sarah Brinker, and by her grandson, Max Corso and great-granddaughter, Bailey Corso. A public celebration of Brinker’s life will be held September 16 with details to be announced.

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