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Out in the Bay

Project Open Hand: 37 years of 'Meals with Love'

Founder Ruth Brinker in Project Open Hand's kitchen
Courtesy of Project Open Hand
Founder Ruth Brinker in Project Open Hand's kitchen

Airs 5 p.m. Friday: Ruth Brinker, a grandmother and retired food service worker at the time, started cooking and delivering nutritious meals to San Francisco gay men debilitated by HIV/AIDS in 1985. Soon after, Project Open Hand, the nonprofit she founded, became a model worldwide.

Project Open Hand, whose motto is “Meals with Love,” now delivers more than 200 bags of groceries and 2,500 life-saving meals daily to people in San Francisco and the East Bay with HIV, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other complex illnesses, and to those experiencing social isolation or aging-related health challenges.

Project Open Hand is also a founding partner of the Food Is Medicine Coalition, a nationwide collaborative that supports research and advocates for valuing nutritious food as a foundation of medical care. The coalition’s “Food is Medicine” philosophy has influenced health care nationally and globally.

On this week’s Out in the Bay, hear about Project Open Hand‘s current operations and history, its founder Ruth Brinker, and the “Food is Medicine” model from CEO Paul Hepfer and Lee Jewell, a long-time Project Open Hand client and former board member who serves on San Francisco’s HIV Community Planning Council. We also hear clips from The Ruth Brinker Story, a short documentary film that premiered at the Castro Theater in May and is being considered by film festivals nationwide. (Brinker died in August, 2011 at age 89.)

Chow down for a good cause! Project Open Hand fundraiser Dining Out for Life East Bay takes place Thursday, September 29, in Oakland, Berkeley and other East Bay locations. Find a list of restaurants donating a share of lunch and dinner sales at Dining Out for Life East Bay’s web page. (Scroll down for restaurant list.) Eateries can still sign up.

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Eric Jansen is a long-time broadcaster and print journalist. A former news anchor, producer and reporter at KQED FM, San Francisco; KLIV AM, San Jose; and Minnesota Public Radio, Eric's award-winning reports have been heard on many NPR programs and PRI's Marketplace. His print work has been in The Mercury News, The Business Journal, and LGBTQ magazines Genre and The Advocate, among other publications. He co-produced the June 2007 PBS documentary Why We Sing!, about LGBTQ choruses and their role in the civil rights fight.