Realizing that she needed an occupation, Ruth Henricks moved to San Diego and began working for tips in her sister-in-law's neighborhood restaurant, "The Huddle."
Ruth took to "waitressing" like a duck to water. It put her in touch with people, and Ruth loved people.
"I found I was a valuable person," she admits. "I had already raised my children and had a home. But I needed to feel the kind of self-worth you get from being able to say, 'Here's something I can do well!'"
Getting into the restaurant business was just the beginning for Ruth. Eventually, she and her sister-in-law became partners in an additional coffee shop. They opened the downtown San Diego Armed Services YMCA that catered to single men. In 1981, Ruth noticed that an excessive number of customers were becoming sick and dying. "It was very hush-hush," Ruth says. "No one ever said they were dying of AIDS, but looking back, I know that was the case."
When her sister-in-law retired, Ruth purchased "The Huddle." Among her loyal customers was a darling young man named Scott, who came in for meals every day. Six feet tall, long blonde hair and friendly blue eyes, Scott was very good looking. He told Ruth he had AIDS. He seemed to grow weaker every day, despite Ruth's hearty meals. As he steadily deteriorated, Ruth became his sounding board. He talked with her each day, explaining a little bit of what was happening to him.
Scott was appreciative for the treatment he received at "The Huddle." He would drag himself into the restaurant and say, "When I come in, I'm greeted by everyone. They know my name and they pat me on the back and ask how it's going today no matter how I look. I'm so grateful for you and the home-cooked meals."
Scott admitted he no longer had the energy to shop or to prepare food. "I depend on you for my meals, Ruth. If I'm not at The Huddle you'll know I'm not eating."
One day Scott failed to come to The Huddle. When he didn't come on the second day, Ruth became worried. His haunting words echoed in her ear. She realized she didn't even know his last name or where he lived. Agonizing over Scott's disappearance and feeling totally helplessness for days, she finally confided in her regular customers and friends.
Among the customers was a doctor from the nearby medical center. He suggested that she post a note on the cash register, offering to deliver meals to people with AIDS. The response was overwhelming to an unmet need. Ruth, the physician, and her supporters met in The Huddle's little dining room and signed papers of incorporation giving birth to the San Diego Special Delivery.
In addition to running The Huddle, Ruth also manages her "troops" a cadre of two hundred volunteers - one hundred of them drivers who prepare, wrap and deliver home-cooked Huddle meals to about one hundred and seventy-five people living with AIDS. "Special Delivery" is a one hundred percent volunteer organization.
Through her association with Scott, Ruth has touched the lives of thousands. "I'm amazed at the heart I find in each of my volunteers," she says proudly. "All of us realize we have some kind of talent. Although we can't do everything, there is at least one thing we can do. Scott's probably looking down from heaven right now. He came to me a stranger and changed my life. He got me to look way beyond our little family restaurant."
Ruth Hendricks found something she could do well for others.