The recession may be a thing of the past, but the tough economic times are still evident in all walks of life across the country.

One of the hardest hit areas has been non-profits and charitable organizations as funding is waning and demand for services is on the uptick. But that has just meant thinking out of the box for a group like Project Open Hand.

“Last year, we registered 770 new clients. Because of the economy, we’re receiving less government funding, some individual donors have had to give less than in previous years and food prices have shot through the roof,” said Hannah Schmunk, Project Open Hand’s Communications Manager.

Founded in 1985 by Ruth Brinker, Project Open Hand started serving meals to people with AIDS in San Francisco. Brinker saw some of her friends suffering from the disease and decided to try to help out by cooking them meals. “She was cooking in her kitchen and it got to the point where she knew she couldn’t do it alone,” said Schmunk. “So she started asking her healthy friends if they could cook with her. So Project Open Hand just grew from one woman deciding to help out.”

Now, it has grown into a multi-service organization providing “meals with love” for not only people with HIV and AIDS, but also seniors, homebound and critically ill clients and those with breast cancer. “We try to not only be a meal provider, but also to provide companionship. A lot of the people that we serve are lonely and they have depressed immune systems,” Schmunk said.

Hundreds of volunteers spend time in the kitchen, help to prepare meals, help clients shop in the grocery center and deliver food to homebound clients. Many volunteers like Jerry are not only helping the organization, but also a client as well. “I was going through a rough patch in my life and I went through an AA and AIDS program and they told me I needed some structure in my life,” he said. “So I started off here doing Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and now it has gone viral. I come every day.”

I got a chance to volunteer in both the kitchen and grocery center recently and met volunteers that have been coming in for more than a decade and others that were like me and volunteering for the first time.

Schmunk said they have had to get creative in the way they buy food, trying to forge relationships with local businesses to see if they can help, getting produce from local urban gardens and even creating their very own peanut butter.

While there has been a concern about a lack of volunteers with the tough economic times, Schmunk said the numbers have been fairly steady. The only difference is that now, many of the volunteers are out of work and see their time at Project Open Hand as a way of keeping their spirits up while they try to find that next job.



Photo Credit: Project Open Hand