Ganga Stone, who survived doing odd jobs in Manhattan until she discovered that her life’s work was to bring free home-cooked meals to bedridden AIDS patients on their bikes, then expanded her volunteer corps of cooks and couriers into a permanent organization called God’s Love We Deliver. died Wednesday in Saratoga Springs, NY. She was 79 years old.
Her death in a health facility was confirmed by her daughter, Hedley Stone. She said a cause was not clear.
In 1985, Ms. Stone was selling coffee off a cart on Wall Street and feeling unfulfilled. She concluded, she later told the New York Times, that “if my life were not directly useful to God, I saw no point in living it.”
But while volunteering at Cabrini Hospice on the Lower East Side, she had a revelation. She was asked to deliver a bag of groceries to Richard Sale, a 32-year-old actor who died of AIDS. When she realized that he was too weak to cook, she got friends together who agreed to bring him hot meals.
“I had never seen anyone who looked this bad,” she recalls. “He was starving and he was scared.”
Legend has it that when she returned to the neighborhood with food tailored to Mr. Sale’s nutritional needs, she met a pastor who recognized her. When she told him what she was doing, he replied, “You don’t just bring food. You bring God’s love. ”(In another version of the origin story, Ms. Stone said she brushed her teeth when she imagined“ We Deliver ”signs on the storefronts of restaurants.)
“It’s the perfect thing – it’s not sectarian so much that it’s impossible to get it wrong,” she told The New Yorker in 1991.
The young organization – made up of Ms. Stone and a few friends, including her roommate Jane Ellen Best, with whom she founded the organization – began delivering meals that were self-cooked or donated by restaurants, to mostly gay men who did it also were unable to shop or cook because of a mysterious illness at the time. They left their orders on their answering machine.
Not everyone wanted a gourmet meal.
“One wanted a can of Cheez Whiz and Saltines,” said Ms. Stone.
400 of their customers died in the first year alone.
As the epidemic spread, the group drew publicity and support from religious groups, government agencies, and celebrities. (Blaine Trump, the former wife of former President Donald J. Trump’s brother Robert, is vice chairwoman.)
This year, God’s Love We Deliver hopes, on a budget of $ 23 million, to distribute 2.5 million meals to 10,000 people in the New York area who are at home with various illnesses.
Ingrid Hedley Stone was born in Manhattan on October 30, 1941 and grew up in Long Island City, Queens and the Bronx. Her father, M. Hedley Stone, a Jewish immigrant from Warsaw who was born Moishe Stein, was a Marxist who was the organizer of the National Maritime Union and later its treasurer.
Her mother, Winifred (Carlson) Stone, a Norwegian immigrant daughter, was a librarian (she founded the National Council on Aging library) who had Lou Gehrig’s disease in her mid-twenties.
A graduate of Fieldston School in the Bronx, Ms. Stone studied comparative literature at Carleton College, Minnesota, and attended Columbia University’s School of General Studies, but never graduated.
Her eclectic résumé included driving a taxi and working as a morgue technician. She was hired as a waitress at Max’s Kansas City nightclub in Manhattan, where she met Gerard Hill, an Australian busboy. They married in 1970 but they broke off after 13 months and the couple divorced in 1973.
Her survivors include her daughter, a son from that marriage, Clement Hill, and a sister, Dr. Elsa Stone.
As a self-proclaimed radical feminist, Ms. Stone was introduced to the spiritual teachings of Swami Muktananda by her yoga teacher. In the mid-1970s, after sending her 6-year-old son to live with his father, she went on a two-year retreat at Swami’s ashram in Ganeshpuri, India. She did laundry, washed floors, and remained silent for nine months. The swami called her Ganga, for the Ganges.
When she returned to New York, Ms. Stone resumed her composing writing career until the mid-1980s when she was inspired to create God’s Love.
In 1995 she retired as managing director of the organization and was replaced by Kathy Spahn. The next year, Ms. Stone, who taught classes on dying, published “Start the Conversation: The Book About Death You Were Hope to Find.” She lived in Saratoga Springs.
“I’ve always been drawn to working with dying people because there is no more important moment in human life than this,” Ms. Stone told The New Yorker. “Everything else can go badly, but when this moment goes well it seems to make a difference and I wanted to make a difference for people in those moments.”
She added, “My sense of my own role in life has been to share with people what I know about the immortal nature of the human self, but you cannot comfort people who have not eaten.”