Project Open Hand expands services

  • by Seth Hemmelgarn
  • Wednesday April 6, 2016
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Project Open Hand CEO Mark Ryle. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland<br><br>
Project Open Hand CEO Mark Ryle. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

A San Francisco-based nonprofit agency that provides meals to people living with AIDS and other diseases is expanding its eligibility for services.

Project Open Hand, which helps about 9,000 people a year, is seeing an increase in funding, which will benefit many people.

Mark Ryle, the nonprofit's CEO, said in a recent interview at POH's office at 730 Polk Street that the agency's mission has been "to take care of the sickest first, then expand beyond that."

However, this fiscal year (April 1-March 31), POH is receiving more Ryan White HIV/AIDS program funding, which had been flat the last couple years, and it's also set to receive more private funding.

"We are now able to take care of people who are less sick," Ryle said.

Last year, the agency's Ryan White contract for key programs was $1.3 million. It's received an additional $100,000 in one-time funding. The agency's budget is almost $11 million.

While POH is able to expand services now, "There are no guarantees," the increased funding will continue, Ryle said.

"We have to be careful how we expand," he said. "We can't bring people on and take people off."

The expansion will include providing more food to people who're "acutely ill," and bringing in "clients who earlier would not be eligible for our services," such as people who didn't have symptoms, he said.

As clients have survived HIV/AIDS, they've become more susceptible to diseases like diabetes, cancer, and congestive heart failure.

About 60 percent of POH's clients are in its senior lunch program, which is for people who are over 60. The rest are in the wellness program, which includes helping people who are sick and need nutritious food to assist with their medical treatment. Some of the wellness clients are also seniors.

After former Executive Director Kevin Winge left the nonprofit last year, Ryle and Simon Pitchford served as co-CEOs. Since the organization's made it through the transition, Pitchford left the agency last week.

Ryle's salary is $165,000, the same as it was when there were two CEOs. Pitchford's salary was the same.

In an email, POH board chair Carmela Krantz said, "Our commitment is to leverage our history of effective, nutritional interventions within the critically ill HIV-positive community and to bring that knowledge and experience to the significant growth we're seeing in diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and hepatitis C."

William Dean, 68, a gay San Francisco man who's living with HIV and diabetes, said, the nonprofit's "really been beneficial to me," helping him control his glucose levels, among other assistance.

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