Thoughts on Compassion: History of House of Ruth

On a wintry day in 1970, Georgetown University professor Veronica Maz took two of her sociology students to Washington’s skid row to see poverty close up. They talked to a few of the homeless people who were roasting chicken claws over fire barrels.

“And then I was going back to my car and my real nice comfortable home,” Dr. Maz later wrote in The Washington Post. “And a man fell down right in front of me, right on the sidewalk. And I just walked around him and got in my car.

“And when I got in my car, I started talking to myself,” she continued. “I said, ‘Why didn’t you help him?’ Well, I just assumed he was drunk. Well, what if he were drunk? He could’ve had a heart attack…All that night I didn’t sleep. It bothered me personally. Whatever these sensitivities that you grow up with that you’re not even conscious of. That’s faith.”

Dr. Maz became widely regarded as a patron saint of Washington’s hungry, indigent, abused and dispossessed.

On a shoestring budget, she helped start three of Washington’s most important nonprofit social service organizations: So Others Might Eat, which offers free food, counseling and health care to the homeless; the House of Ruth, which shelters and advises battered women; and Martha’s Table, which opened in 1980 (with $93) as a place for children to get free sandwiches after school.

On House of Ruth’s first night in 1976, they gave shelter to eight homeless women in the basement of a row home on Massachusetts Avenue. At the time, the District had only a few shelters for men, and none dedicated to serving women or their children.They now serve more than 1,000 women and children every year.

We admire and encourage those who strive to help build a fairer world. We will share your story with other nonprofits around the world, in our newspaper, as well as in our digital media channels. We truly believe the world desperately needs it. Tell the world your story.


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