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By Sharon Gittleman
ROYAL OAK – Royal Oak’s streets were packed this fall for the Steppin’ Out AIDS Walk Detroit fund-raiser – collecting $200,000 for more than a dozen HIV-AIDS support agencies. Last week, the agencies picked up their checks during a ceremony at the Royal Oak Women’s Club.
While there was $7,440 more in corporate donations to Steppin’ Out in 2005, the total dollars raised by the Walk fell by $26,000 this year to $284,000.
“We did quite well, especially since Hurricane Katrina moved through the southern states three weeks before,” said Steppin’ Out Program Director Ann Phillips.
At the ceremony, agencies fielding walk teams collected their money.
Grant checks were handed out to agencies that had asked Steppin’ Out to fund their projects. Steppin’ Out officials declined to disclose to BTL the amount of each grant they were providing to each agency.
To receive a grant, organizations had to provide services to people affected by HIV-AIDS or perform education or prevention work for at-risk groups and individuals in the area.
Rick Henning said walkers brought in $8,637 for his group, Higher Ground. The agency also received a $5,000 grant to continue its work – giving brand-new blankets to organizations that provide them to people with HIV-AIDS.
“In two years, we’ve distributed 1,300 blankets,” he said. “This year, we hope to distribute over 2,000.”
Hurricane Katrina didn’t only cause untold financial damage and ruin people’s lives in Mississippi and Louisiana. With more dollars directed to assist victims of the monster storm, there is less money available for organizations that help out people with HIV-AIDS.
Higher Ground has felt the impact, said Henning.
“The need is bigger this year, he said.
Higher Ground Volunteer Coordinator Karen Costley has seen what receiving a blanket means to people who own next to nothing.
“The littlest thing means so much,” she said. “To not be able to stay warm at night, especially when you’re ill – we’re just trying to provide a little comfort.”
This year, walkers brought in $700 to Positive Support – a Detroit agency that provides food, transportation and housing help and support groups for straight people who are affected by HIV-AIDS.
“It will mean a lot to the clients,” said group co-founder Paula Sirls, who said she herself is living with HIV. “Some of them are in shelters. They need deodorants, bath products and bus cards.”
While many support groups are shutting down, the demand for them is high, she said.
“When we get there, people are standing outside waiting for us,” she said.
The couple will continue their battle to help people with AIDS, said Paula’s husband and Positive Support co-founder Felix Sirls, who has lived with HIV for 25 years.
“This is our life,” he said. “This is what we do.”