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Meal Service Supports Those With AIDSHIV

Evening Edition

Above: For nearly 22 years, the owner of a Mission Hills restaurant has delivered meals to those suffering from severe illnesses, including AIDS and HIV.

Every week day, Timmy Burleson spends his afternoons driving around San Diego, going from door to door with a day's dose of meals. Sometimes he also brings a carton of milk, or a vase of fresh flowers, but always: a smile.

Tarryn Mento

Timmy Burleson delivers meals, milk and flowers to a Special Delivery San Diego client. He is a volunteer driver for the meal service.

Tarryn Mento

Timmy Burleson chats with Special Delivery San Diego client Gerard Hall.

Tarryn Mento

Special Delivery San Diego's headquarters is located next door to The Huddle in Mission Hills.

Aired 4/26/13 on KPBS News.

For nearly 22 years, the owner of a Mission Hills restaurant has delivered meals to those suffering from severe illnesses, including AIDS and HIV.

Timmy is a volunteer driver for Special Delivery San Diego, a meal service for those suffering with severe illnesses. Three quarters of the group's clients have AIDS or are HIV positive.

But to Timmy, they're more than just clients, they're his friends.

"I've been doing the same route for about 5 years, and I've adopted these people," he said.

Like 58-year-old Gerard Hall, an HIV-positive man who is also battling lung cancer.

"I was delighted to know that I'd have one person coming to bring the food because...he doesn't mind talking for a little bit so it means a lot to me," said Hall.

Special Delivery San Diego got its start nearly 22 years ago in the back dining room of Ruth Henricks' The Huddle. It's a small Mission Hills diner that's so cozy, you can hear the kitchen refrigerator's hum from where you sit. The Huddle is where Ruth first met a man named Scott more than two decades ago.

"I'd never seen anyone so ill in all my life," said Ruth.

He was very thin and had dark circles under his eyes, she said. And even though he ate a large amount of food, Ruth said he never gained any weight.

"And so eventually he told me that he was somebody living with AIDS," she said.

Back then, AIDS was almost a death sentence. And some days, Scott would suffer a lot. Some days, he couldn't even get up to make himself some food.

"If I'm not here, I'm not eating," he told her.

"And I don't know why out of all the things we chatted about, that particular phrase stuck in my head and in my heart," Ruth said.

She started making extra food for Scott to take home with him, but soon, he stopped coming in. Worried he wasn't eating, she asked around for his address so she could take him a meal. She even posted a note on her cash register.

That's when the idea of Special Delivery San Diego first started to take shape.

"I had people coming up to me when I would ask these questions about getting a meal to Scott," Ruth said. "They would say, 'Well I have a neighbor who I think could benefit by a service like that.'"

Customers started to offer Ruth their time and money in support a delivery service. So on June 1, 1991, Ruth gathered supporters in the back of her restaurant and founded Special Delivery San Diego. But not all of her customers at The Huddle were supportive.

"Once they found out we were feeding people with AIDS, they wouldn't come in because they didn't want to catch it," she said.

But Ruth said a lot has changed since then. She now has more volunteers than she knows what to do with, and has studied nutrition to help her clients transition from sufferers to survivors.

Like Timmy Burleson, the volunteer driver who actually started out as a client. HIV-positive, Timmy suffered from diverticulits, which causes thinning of the intestinal walls. He turned his health around because he paid attention to the nutritional foods Special Delivery served him. And the smile that came with it.

"Just looking forward to that meal and that smile every day, that interaction was enough to make me want to get better," he said.

When he did get better, Timmy said he felt he had to be a part of Special Delivery. He now delivers meals 5 days a week with his partner.

As for Ruth, she never did find Scott. But she's carried his words with her for 22 years.

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