AIDS Walk aims at $800,000 goal

Despite recent advances in treatment, the HIV and AIDS crisis is far from over -- that's the message organizers of the annual AIDS Walk, scheduled for Sunday, May 17, hope to send to Minnesotans this month.

The Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP) hopes to raise $800,000, which will benefit a total of 19 Minnesota HIV and AIDS service organizations, including the Aliveness Project, Grace House, and the Minnesota American Indian AIDS Task Force. Roughly 15,000 people are expected to take part in the Walk. MAP, the largest HIV and AIDS organization in the state, has produced the Walk for the past 11 years.

Last year, AIDS Walk pledges brought in $760,000, significantly less than the 1997 goal of $1 million. AIDS Walk coordinator Eric Jensen says he believes MAP did not reach its intended goal due to a widespread perception that there is no longer a need for AIDS organizations because of pharmaceutical improvements in the treatment of AIDS and the lower rate of AIDS-related deaths.

"In fact," says Jensen, "there are actually more people living with HIV/AIDS. The news about the drug treatments is great, but the bad news is that more people are HIV-positive than before, and the need for services has actually increased."

Other local AIDS organizations express concerns similar concerns. The need for HIV/AIDS services has increased, they say, while funding for such services has dwindled.

"We've never had a greater response for our services than in 1998," says Rick Nelson, a board member of Every Penny Counts, a volunteer organization that provides emergency financial assistance to people living with HIV and AIDS. "In 1992, we gave away $14,000. Last year, we gave away $100,000. And most of that was to new clients."

Every Penny Counts has been a recipient of the Walk's proceeds for the last six years.

"Last year we received over $8,000 from the Walk," says Nelson, which he calculates is about 9 percent of the organization's operating income.

Among the major sponsors for this year's Walk is the Dayton Hudson Corporation, including all Dayton's, Mervyn's, and Target stores and divisions. Dayton Hudson spokeswoman Susan Eich says she expects some 3,000 employees of the corporation will participate in the event. Other sponsors include Metro Transit, Power Bar, Bruegger's Bagels, Petco, and various media, including Q Monthly.

As in years past, the event will begin with an opening ceremony in Minnehaha Park. Participants will follow a route that proceeds north then south along the banks of the Mississippi river. The opening and closing ceremonies will take place in Minnehaha Park. Speakers will include Minnesotans affected by HIV and AIDS and musical entertainment.

At each of the six rest stops along the route, entertainment and snacks will be provided by sponsors, including radio stations Cities 97, K102, and KDWB.

The AIDS Walk opening ceremony begins at 12:30 p.m., Sunday, May 17, in Minnehaha Park. For more information on how to participate, contact the WalkLine at 373-2411 or call 1-800-248-AIDS.

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