By Andy Smith
Special Delivery San Diego is a rare, remarkable species of non-profit. It’s had one director and many of the same volunteers and staff members since opening its doors 17 years ago.
And with a Spartan staff of four administrative volunteers and an army of approximately 215 other dedicated volunteers, no one – including Executive Director Ruth Henricks – gets paid. So all of this organization’s funding goes to feed people living with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses across greater San Diego.
“The bulk of our volunteers are drivers and meal preparation assistants,” says Henricks, a former waitress who now owns The Huddle, a popular restaurant in the city’s Mission Hills District.
Broadway Cares is proud that Special Delivery’s funding includes a recent $25,000 food service grant which was delivered this April.
A Moving History
Special Delivery began operations June 1, 1991 out of an immediate need in the San Diego area—the Southern California city’s other AIDS foundation had closed its doors. Henricks’ commitment to the AIDS cause began a few years earlier, when one of her regular Huddle customers revealed a recent AIDS diagnosis and then stopped coming in for his meals a few weeks later.
Ruth reasoned that if he wasn’t eating at her restaurant, he probably wasn’t eating much (if anything) at all. Unable to track him down, her nutrition mission grew from the feelings of concern and helplessness generated by this man who essentially vanished from her life.
Cathy Kell, a longtime volunteer who writes grants and delivers meals, describes Special Delivery’s core group of services. “We became a full-fledged pantry roughly three years ago, although we have always distributed non perishables that were donated to us,” she says. “Our primary operation has always been the preparation and delivery of nutritious meals.”
Most clients – within a 7-mile radius of Special Delivery’s offices – receive deliveries of three home-cooked meals five days a week, as well as a bag of groceries on Fridays to tide them over through the weekend.
A smaller group – those living further away or with other sources of nutritious food – gets a pack of seven frozen meals which they pick up onsite. And some clients eat on the premises. “We usually have 3-4 homeless individuals per day walk in to our office hungry,” said Kell, who added, “And we have 13 clients that pick up their meals – these are typically clients who live nearby and are still capable and in need of exercise.”
“For example, we have a couple that lives within our delivery service area but choose to take the bus to pick up meals,” she explains. “It gives them a reason to get out of their home.”
Government grants provide about half of Special Delivery’s annual budget, with the rest coming from direct mail solicitations, private donors and a handful of fundraising events, including the organization’s annual “Top of the Park” event held during San Diego’s Gay Pride Week. “It’s our annual barbeque fundraiser held on the gorgeous rooftop facility of the Park House Inn,” Ruth says.
Filling a Need
Henricks says Special Delivery is using its $25,000 food services grant to support the organization’s expanded mission of providing home-delivered meals to individuals living with critical illnesses other than HIV/AIDS related conditions.
Both Ruth and Cathy point out that only HIV/AIDS – unlike diabetes, cancer and other life-threatening conditions – has food service organizations set up specifically to provide patients with home-delivered meals.
“For example, if you have cancer, you can’t call the American Cancer Society and tell them you are hungry,” Ruth says. “This is evidence of how important funding is for our expanded reach. With this funding, we indeed can help those with cancer and other illnesses.”
A few of Special Delivery’s case histories underscore the importance of filling this need.
“A couple of years ago, we were contacted by a VA staff member about a border patrol agent who had fallen down a ravine in the line of duty and had broken both of his arms,” Henricks says. “He was treated at the VA hospital but received no ‘in home care’ upon his release. We not only provided meals during his recovery but actually fed him until he gained limited use of one of his arms.”
Shortly thereafter, the Red Cross contacted Special Delivery concerning a woman with final stage cervical cancer. “She had just been released from the hospital and the Red Cross volunteer felt helpless that they could find no service that would provide this woman with food in her fragile state,” Ruth says. “We provided meals to her for the remaining four months of her life.”
The organization’s volunteers are deeply affected upon hearing these stories and are grateful for the opportunity to help whether that help is of a temporary nature or end-of-life care.
“We receive calls from discharge nurses, The Red Cross, the Salvation Army as well as other social service organizations and sometimes it is simply through word of mouth about the specialized diets we offer depending on the clients’ health condition,” Henricks says, emphasizing again that without BC/EFA’s support, providing meals for clients like these would be serious challenge.
“Because most of our core funding is specifically earmarked for HIV/AIDS clients, grants such as the one generously given by Broadway Cares are even MORE important to our expanded mission. Prior to expansion funding, we had a very small pool of funds from private donors that could be used for Non HIV/AIDS-related care.”
For more on Special Delivery, visit the organizations website by clicking here