Tonight I volunteered for a hands on activity to repeat the happiness created by producing with our hands. My TGIF was spent chopping vegetables with Project Open Hand, which was founded by Ruth Brinker when she started preparing meals for seven neighbors who had Aids and were literally wasting away during the height of the epidemic in San Francisco. From her brotherly love grew an organization that serves 2,500 meals daily to the sick and elderly.
The kitchen was no sweat shop, but there was a lot to do in an hour. We chopped over a dozen boxes of cauliflower and onions and a bushel of peppers. I just wanted to use the word bushel, but really a milk crate size heap. The prep list was checked off quickly; we were an efficient assembly line, and the pungency of the onions only moved a few of us to tears.
One of the three rules for volunteers is no dissemination of aids as the volunteer manager explained, “No sex, no blood contact, and no breastfeeding.” Everyone was on good behavior and there were no hurt paws. I wielded the knife skills I picked up at the Niles Pie bakery, my transitional job when I moved to California.
Rule # Two
Have a great experience. I met a few new people, socialized, and was productive with my hands. I also learned that cauliflower bruises with human contact and the cheesy Béchamel sauce is a creamy cover up. The veracity of this I couldn’t find but the volunteer coordinator ‘Mac scored points with his English kitchen humour.
In the lobby of Project Open Hand is this portrait of Ruth; she passed away in 2011. What began as something so small really blossomed into a community service that is nourishing lives not only through food but human contact also. Where meals are provided at various centers throughout the city, activities are planned for socializing like: tai chi, bingo, and art projects. For seniors the engagement lowers risk for depression and cognitive decline.
A grateful client of the program said, “I come here five days a week for lunch. I’m really counting on this food; it’s my primary meal of the day. If I wasn’t coming here for lunch, I’d be eating a whole lot of Chef Boyardee. And I know that would not be good for me.” This quote made me recall an image of my Grandpa’s sadly stocked fridge: a head of iceberg lettuce, ketchup, some Kraft singles, and maybe a loaf of bread.
So it felt rewarding to help prepare meals for those thousands of grandparents receiving assisstance and to feel I made an impact. From the heart of the Tenderloin, I did something that really benefited others.
For dessert there were brownies and milk, and that was really the cherry on top of already a happy evening. I’m so looking forward to the next Project Open Hand.