Haywire

Local AIDS charities ditch the walk for dinner and dessert, and leave J.D. Hayworth behind

Gone completely was a $20,000 donation from godaddy.com, as well as many smaller contributions.

There would be no walk in 2004.


Agencies like AGAPE -- which use volunteers like Tommy Tharp to  deliver food to AIDS patients --  used to count on AIDS Walk.
Peter Scanlon
Agencies like AGAPE -- which use volunteers like Tommy Tharp to deliver food to AIDS patients -- used to count on AIDS Walk.
AGAPE network volunteers Lloyde Malone (center) and Tommy Tharp (left) load Malone's cart with groceries while AGAPE's Bonnie Heare (far right) gets a hug from volunteer Patricia Glover.
Peter Scanlon
AGAPE network volunteers Lloyde Malone (center) and Tommy Tharp (left) load Malone's cart with groceries while AGAPE's Bonnie Heare (far right) gets a hug from volunteer Patricia Glover.

For smaller, volunteer-run groups like AGAPE Network, which provides food deliveries to AIDS patients, the loss hit especially hard. AGAPE usually got about $9,000 from the Walk, or 10 percent of its annual budget.

"That money kept us going throughout the year," says executive director Bonnie Heare.

Instead, last fall, AGAPE found itself getting requests from an additional 40 clients previously served by APAZ. With the walk gone, there was no extra money.

"We've managed to keep our heads above water, but it wasn't easy," Heare says.

And so when the AIDS service community started meeting this past winter to figure out how to replace the Walk, they were ready to do everything differently.

Instead of one agency running the show, APAZ-style, they formed a new organization. They named it Aunt Rita's Foundation, after a much-beloved local group that administered emergency grants to AIDS patients throughout the 1990s.

(Because the original Aunt Rita's group was all volunteer, it folded in 2001, says David Sostak, who was then a board member. "After so many years, we were just fried.")

For this fund raiser, there would be no walking under the hot Phoenix sun. They decided, instead, on dinner.

The idea: Volunteers can sign up to host a dinner at either their home or a restaurant on November 19. They invite their friends, and those friends make a donation. At night's end, everybody meets up at downtown's Bentley Projects for dessert.

They dubbed the event "Savor Life."

Starting from scratch has been hard. Board members started the paperwork in January, but didn't get official non-profit status from the IRS until July, Sostak says.

The event was originally scheduled for mid-September, but was abruptly postponed two months ago, thanks to a lack of corporate sponsors. One month after the announcement, the group's Web site, www.hostadinner.com, still touts the old date.

On the plus side, though, they've managed to eliminate the old alliances that dogged AIDS Walk. For their chairman, they've brought on 27-year-old Heil -- the same guy who penned most of the pieces in Echo last year excoriating APAZ.

Everybody swears they're really working together, this time. Four of the largest service agencies -- Shanti, TERROS, Body Positive, and Chicanos por la Causa -- have actually agreed to forgo profits from this year's event, donating their share to smaller, volunteer-dependent agencies, like AGAPE.

"We know that we're going to survive," says Cathy Torrez-Paddack, director of HIV services at TERROS. "But they might not. Some of them are hanging on by a shoestring."

It's a generous gesture, and perhaps the best sign that the inter-agency contentiousness that dogged AIDS Walk may finally be at an end.

"That tension between groups has always been a problem in the Valley," Sostak says. "No one has an answer of why it is that way. But now, there does seem to be a coming together of agencies. Thank God.

"So we've all come together, and we've agreed to do this."

One other thing: Congressman J.D. Hayworth is nowhere in sight.

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