Ganga Stone, who survived on odd jobs in Manhattan until she discovered that her life’s mission was to bring free homemade meals to bedridden AIDS patients on her bicycle, then expanded her volunteer corps of cooks and couriers into an enduring organization called God’s Love We Deliver, died on Wednesday in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She was 79.
Her death, at a health care facility, was confirmed by her daughter, Hedley Stone. She said a cause had not been determined.
In 1985, Ms. Stone was selling coffee from a cart on Wall Street and feeling unfulfilled. She came to the conclusion, she later told The New York Times, that “if my life were not useful to God in some direct way, I didn’t see the point in living it.”
But while volunteering at the Cabrini Hospice on the Lower East Side, she had an epiphany. She was asked to deliver a bag of groceries to Richard Sale, a 32-year-old actor who was dying of AIDS. When she realized that he was too weak to cook, she rounded up friends, who agreed to bring him hot meals.
“I had never seen anyone look that bad,” she recalled. “He was starving, and he was terrified.”
Legend has it that when she returned to the neighborhood with food tailored to Mr. Sale’s nutritional needs, she ran into a minister, who recognized her. When she told him what she was doing, he replied: “You’re not just delivering food. You’re delivering God’s love.” (In another version of the origin story, Ms. Stone said she was brushing her teeth when she envisioned “We Deliver” signs on restaurant storefronts.)
“It’s the perfect thing — it’s so nonsectarian it’s impossible to misunderstand,” she told The New Yorker in 1991.
The fledgling organization — made up of Ms. Stone and a few friends, including her roommate, Jane Ellen Best, with whom she founded the organization — began by delivering meals, home-cooked or donated by restaurants, to mostly gay men who were too incapacitated by a then-mysterious disease to shop or cook. They left their orders on her answering machine.
Not everyone wanted a gourmet meal.
“One guy wanted a can of Cheez Whiz and saltines,” Ms. Stone said.
In the first year alone, 400 of their clients died.
As the epidemic spread, the group attracted 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 the vice-chairwoman.)
This year, God’s Love We Deliver, with a budget of $23 million, hopes to distribute 2.5 million meals to 10,000 people in the New York metropolitan area who are homebound with various diseases.
Ingrid Hedley Stone was born on Oct. 30, 1941, in Manhattan and raised 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 an organizer for the National Maritime Union and later its treasurer.
Her mother, Winifred (Carlson) Stone, a daughter of Norwegian immigrants, was a librarian (she established the library for the National Council on Aging), who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease when Ms. Stone was in her mid 20s.
A graduate of the Fieldston School in the Bronx, Ms. Stone studied comparative literature at Carleton College in Minnesota and attended Columbia University’s School of General Studies, but never graduated.
Her eclectic résumé of jobs included driving a cab and working as a morgue technician. She was hired as a waitress at the Manhattan nightclub Max’s Kansas City, where she met Gerard Hill, an Australian busboy. They married in 1970, but she left the marriage after 13 months, and the couple divorced in 1973.
In addition to her daughter, her survivors include a son from that marriage, Clement Hill, and a sister, Dr. Elsa Stone.
A self-described radical feminist, Ms. Stone was steered by her yoga instructor to the spiritual teachings of Swami Muktananda. In the mid-1970s, after sending her 6-year-old son to live with his father, she embarked on a two-year retreat to the swami’s ashram in Ganeshpuri, India. She cleaned laundry, washed floors and went nine months without speaking. The swami named her Ganga, for the Ganges River.
When she returned to New York, Ms. Stone resumed her composite career until the mid-1980s, when she was inspired to start God’s Love.
She retired as the organization’s executive director in 1995 and was succeeded by Kathy Spahn. The next year, Ms. Stone, who taught courses about dying, published “Start the Conversation: The Book About Death You Were Hoping to Find.” She lived in Saratoga Springs.
“I’ve always been attracted to working with dying people, since it seems to me that there’s no more important moment in a human life than that one,” Ms. Stone told The New Yorker. “Everything else can go badly, but if that moment goes well, it seems to make a difference, and I wanted to make a difference in those moments for people.”
She added, “My sense of my own role in life was to share with people what I know about the deathless nature of the human self, but you can’t comfort people who haven’t eaten.”