Rudi Bertrand first started volunteering for Food Outreach in 1995. He was working at Missouri Baptist Hospital as a Certified Medical Dosimetrist and he was looking for opportunities to volunteer as a way to give back to the community. A social worker in the Radiation Department recommended several organizations to him including Food Outreach. A volunteer orientation convinced Rudi that he had found the right organization. He began volunteering on Saturday cooks and in about three months he became a red apron volunteer. “When I went to the Food Outreach orientation, it just felt like a match, and as I got involved with the organization and I found that I just wanted to connect with the organization more and more on a humanitarian level. I just wanted to do more for the organization and so whenever I was asked to do something, I was happy to say yes. After volunteering on Saturday, the next big thing I started doing was working with A Tasteful Affair and then I branched into working at the nutrition center once the facility on Olive was opened.” Now retired, Rudi has transitioned into a donor to Food Outreach
In his position as a Certified Medical Dosimetrist, Rudi designed radiation treatment schemes for the delivery of radiation to cancer patients. He describes himself as a “puzzler about how to best treat the patient.” There are only about 5,000 Certified Medical Dosimetrists in the world, and the first certification exam was in 1990.
At Food Outreach, Rudi found a community in the other volunteers. He met his husband Paul Williams there while volunteering. “We met across the table from each other, kind of chit-chatting as we portioned food. There was a small group that would go to breakfast every week, and I invited him to our weekly breakfast. We hit it off and our relationship just took off after that breakfast. This was in the late summer of 1995. In November, there was a combined event between DOORWAYS and Food Outreach called Duets. I believe there were only two of those events that ever happened. We were both at the event, and we decided to go out on a date afterward. That was our first date—November 15th, 1995. And funnily enough, there was a big group of Food Outreach volunteers at the restaurant and so we couldn’t even be discreet about it.”
Rudi and Paul were married on November 15, 2015, the anniversary of their first date. Paul passed away in 2022, but Rudi has fond memories of their time volunteering at Food Outreach. “Paul was volunteering at Food Outreach before me, and I remember one of his stories where there was a certain count of meals that each food group needed to prepare, and if they didn’t make the count, they would have to reopen all the containers and redistribute the food so that would hit the count number. I joined Food Outreach in the time right before protease inhibitors hit the market. We were doing 10,000 to 14,000 units of food on a Saturday morning.”
Throughout his time volunteering and now donating to Food Outreach, Rudi has seen the organization grow and branch out into other diagnoses. But the community he felt as a volunteer still remains today. “My favorite thing about working with Food Outreach is the joy and the love that you feel from the volunteers when you’re all there together. I’ve said time and time again that the organization could not survive without its volunteer base. And it’s just impressive the number of people over the years that wanted to volunteer. There were even times when they had to push volunteers to come back another week because it was just too full. That’s a wonderful statement for the organization. It does renew your faith in humanity.”
Thinking back on Food Outreach, Rudi is proud that the community came together to help people diagnosed with HIV and struggling. “The need for Food Outreach came out of one person seeing a couple of her friends not eating and starting to cook for them in her own home and it branched from there. And I saw the need, and felt the desire to help, knowing that people were in a situation where they couldn’t cook for themselves or didn’t feel like cooking for themselves because of their sickness, or because of medications, or didn’t have money to buy their own food because of medication costs—which were and probably still are astronomic. It’s cool to know we made a difference and that was something that we as a couple believed in. And not only did we donate, but we also actually did some hands-on work to help Food Outreach. Did we change the face of HIV in the city? No, but I think we helped.”
When the new Food Outreach Pantry opened at DOORWAYS Jefferson Campus, it was dedicated to Rudi and Paul. “I’m very proud that we were involved with Food Outreach. I am elated that I met my husband there and that we were together 26 and a half years. I wish that he would have known that there was a collaborative effort between Food Outreach and DOORWAYS with the food pantry that we underwrote. I didn’t find that out until after he passed away when I did a private tour and saw the sign on the pantry. And that just really touched my heart because both organizations are important to us and the fact that this has come together, like we came together.”