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    Roxie’s Story

    By Tara Blake

    When like-minded people come together and collaborate, powerful things can happen. Our fearless founder, Ruth Brinker, proved that over 30 years ago when she started Project Open Hand by cooking meals for her HIV+ friends who were too weak to cook for themselves. Here we are, 31 years later; our team is still chock-full of persevering and passionate minds battling food injustice every day. After 31 years of work, we still hear clients’ stories that completely shake us.

    As an HIV+ woman of color, Roxie knows what it means to struggle. She has undergone circumstances that have completely derailed her, but she has still managed to build an incredibly powerful reputation for grit.

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    Roxie was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and lived there for eight years before coming to the U.S. with her mother and five sisters. Once they arrived in Los Angeles, her mother left Roxie and her sisters in separate parks throughout the city. She was placed in foster care, and shifted from home to home throughout L.A. During the years of shuffle, she met an incredible mentor who wanted to adopt her, but was unable to because he was gay.

    Roxie says, “I would have had a great dad. It was the only great experience I had in foster care. I’ve encountered everything from sexual to emotional abuse while being in the foster care system, but never from him.”

    Once she was emancipated at age 17, Roxie was determined to continue her education and joined Job Corps, a trade school where she studied business and medical clerical work. She was two years into her career when she contracted AIDS.

    The years following, Roxie found herself battling homelessness, violence, and the stigma of being a positive Trans Latina. Her diagnosis eventually left her too weak to walk, so she turned to Larkin Street Youth Services for help and her case manager immediately referred her to Project Open Hand.

    Roxie says, “At that time in my life, I wouldn’t have been eating at all if I didn’t have Project Open Hand. I couldn’t even get out of bed. If food wasn’t brought to me, I would have died. After becoming a client, I was slowly able to re-gain healthy weight.”

    She began to meet regularly with a nutritionist at Project Open Hand, in addition to receiving groceries and delivered meals. Before Project Open Hand, Roxie said she would go weeks without eating, stressing that the side effects of her medicine were unbearable without food.

    She continues, “Imagine hearing, ‘I don’t care that you’re Trans or gay. Here’s this meal.’ For people who are feeling lost, depressed, confused in this world, and not knowing when they’re going to eat next, that meal literally changes everything.”

    Roxie is now in her late 20’s, back on her feet, and working to help those with backgrounds similar to hers.

    She concludes, “All I ever got from Project Open Hand was love. I was never judged, and people actually wanted to talk to me there. I was acknowledged as a human being, and that can change someone’s entire world. It was indescribable, and it still moves me to this day.”

    Our community needs an example of what it means not to give up. Roxie is that example, and Project Open Hand will continue mobilizing our neighbors in order to help more people just like her.

    Tara Blake is the Marketing Communications Officer at Project Open Hand.