The world lost a pioneer when Ruth Brinker passed away in San Francisco on August 8, 2011.
Ruth was the founder of Project Open Hand, an organization that provides daily meals and support to over 7,000 seniors, people living with HIV/AIDS and the critically ill in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Ruth began this work in 1985, just as the HIV/AIDS epidemic began to spread like wildfire. It was then that she noticed her neighbor was suffering from AIDS and lacked access to the most elemental health component: a nutritious meal.
And at a time when no drug treatments for the disease were available, eating well could have a direct impact on a person’s ability to cope with the disease.
Far from looking the other way, Ruth had to do something to help. She began preparing meals for her neighbor and other people living with HIV/AIDS. Soon after, Ruth gathered friends and secured a basement kitchen at a local church. She worked to persuade produce vendors to donate food and convince health officials and city leaders to support the organization.The point was to extend this essential service to more people across the Bay Area.
Today, Project Open Hand provides groceries and serves thousands of meals a day to seniors and people suffering from AIDS, breast cancer and other debilitating diseases.
For Levi Strauss & Co. employees in San Francisco, supporting Project Open Hand has been a great source of pride. For over 20 years, hundreds of employees have donated their time and money to deliver meals in the Tenderloin neighborhood. Since 2010, employees have worked at Project Open Hand’s facility sorting and repackaging food as part of our company’s Community Day.
In addition, the Levi Strauss Foundation has supported the organization with over $2.5 million in charitable contributions throughout the years.
Many of us never had a chance to meet Ruth, and yet we knew her through the work of her staff and volunteers. It’s clear to me and to my colleagues that in delivering or preparing a life-sustaining meal for someone who needs it, Project Open Hand improves more than a person’s health: it provides a supportive, safe environment for people to get life-sustaining help.
So although we lost a pioneer, I know that Ruth’s spirit lives on. Her empathy and courage allowed her to find a simple solution that continues to make a huge difference in the quality of life of people undergoing severe hardships.