Helping feed the terminally ill

Tom Nolan, the executive director of Project Open Hand, is celebrating the nonprofit organization’s 25th anniversary Thursday with founder Ruth Brinker at a gala hosted in their Polk Street headquarters. Project Open Hand delivers groceries and meals to the terminally ill.

How did you get involved in Project Open Hand? It’s been 16 years now. I was a San Mateo County supervisor from 1984 to 1992, and then I went over to SPUR for a little while. As a gay man in the ’80s when AIDS was making its first appearance, it was frightening and I wanted to do something about it. That’s what originally attracted me to this work.

How has the organization changed in 25 years? When they first discovered medications that enhance the quality of life for AIDS patients, things began to really change. We just couldn’t help people with cancer and other serious diseases before because the demand for HIV patients was just too high. Now we have a very large program here for women with breast cancer and their families.

Any advice for someone looking to start a successful nonprofit? All you really need is a big heart and a kitchen to do this, but there are ups and downs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told people that at the end of the day, no matter the struggles, I can say I helped get 2,600 people healthy meals.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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