Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ruth Brinker R.I.P.

Ruth Brinker Memorial

San Francisco City Hall, North Hall

September 12, 2011

Ruth Brinker


Founder of Project Open Hand

In 1981 Ruth Brinker was one of the first people I met after I had been elected Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Bush and Gough Street. She was the director of the

Meals on Wheels program which used the kitchens of the church to make meals. She was always perfectly dressed while slicing, chopping or stirring food next to a hot stove.

There were budget cuts then as there are now and her budget had been cut so low that she though it would better named Snacks on Sneakers. Ruth had recruited many volunteers and friends to assist in preparing and delivering food to the housebound elderly.

In 1984 some of her friends and volunteers were getting very sick and were also housebound. The AIDS epidemic had hit the city and gay males were hardest hit. They were infected, became very ill and often died with a month or two. The men could not work, often lived in poor tenderloin housing and could not prepare food for themselves.

Ruth Brinker began preparing meals for them from her home and delivering them herself to her friends. One day she came to me and asked, “May I use Trinity kitchens? I am cooking for ten men from home and there is more demand?”

I said, “Sure, keep me informed.”

In two weeks we spoke and she said the numbers had jumped from 10 to 40 in two weeks.

She called it Project Open Hand.

She needed more money and we were not able to help her. She got a gift of two thousand dollars from a Zen Buddhist group. Trinity paid PG&E, water, and garbage. The need, the money and the volunteers grew and publicity resulted and Project Open Hand was a reality.


As usual some people began to complain that there were too many people in and out of the church, parking was interrupted and someone reported the operation to the health Department.

The Health Inspector came to the ancient Trinity kitchen, looked around and said, “Yes, there are violations here,” He turned around and walked away never to be heard from again. The kitchen was built in 1898 when the church was built and had never been refinished. Well, maybe in 1900.

Then people were worried about the money. Where was the bank account, how was the money spent, who was the treasurer? Ruth replied briskly, “My purse is the bank account.”

I was never worried. She drove the same old rent a wreck she always had and lived in a small apartment in North beach.

Finally a board of directors was formed to help her and no one cold find any hint that Ruth was dishonest.

Project Open Hand moved from Trinity in 1993 to its own kitchen on 17th Street. The telephone bank stayed at the church for a few years longer.

Ruth told me that the Quakers influenced her earlier in her life. She became a communicant member of Trinity Church while I was rector.

She was a follower of Jesus who asked us to

Feed the hungry, heal the sick,

aid the oppressed.

That was what Ruth Brinker was all about.

A speech given by The Rev. Robert Warren Cromey, retire rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, San Francisco, CA


Anonymous Hannah said...

Hi, I am writing from Project Open Hand. I am the Director of Communications and I would like to write an article about Ruth's time at Trinity Church. I would really love to speak with you and hear about your time with Ruth. Can you email me at or call me at 415-447-2412? Thanks!

11:58 AM  

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