Aunt Rita’s Foundation has announced the largest Arizona gathering to raise both funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS on Saturday, Feb. 19 at Tempe Beach Park, 250 W. Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe. 

HIV/AIDS is a disease that weakens the immune system and heavily worsens a person’s life, if not killing them altogether. A team of researchers has found that while people with HIV are living longer and healthier lives, they are still dying from underlying infections as they get older.

Due to the disease being dangerous in nature, it is important that those who are infected receive proper care and treatment. Fortunately, Aunt Rita’s Foundation exists to help treat those suffering from AIDS through forging partnerships with various entities, collaborating with HIV service organizations, and providing services to those suffering from the disease. 

One such person affected by AIDS was Jimmy Thomason, who tested positive at the age of 22 in 2005. Thomason said he used the services of Aunt Rita’s partnered agencies “for a social worker, living will, healthcare, rides to medical appointments and job interviews, and healthy food.”

After years of support and service for the foundation, Thomason now currently works as the foundation’s executive director. As the ED, Thomason oversees many of the foundation’s major fundraising efforts, including next year’s AIDS Walk Arizona. 

Regina Wells

2022’s fundraising theme is “When We Rise,” created by the event’s co-chairs, Regina Wells; a trans activist committed to advocating for trans individuals affected by HIV, substance abuse, and homelessness, and Elijah Palles, a drag entertainer and mental health therapist who works primarily with trans and gender nonconforming. 

The theme takes on multiple meanings, nodding to an effort to keep the world healthy after a deadly pandemic but also a nod to the bake sales the foundation was built on. “We started in 1986 by putting on small bake sales to raise money as a way to help dying friends with rent, utility bills, medical bills, and eventually funeral costs,” Thomason says of the foundation’s inception. “So our co-chairs pointed out that we want to rise like dough. And make a lot of dough along the way!”

Thomason also highlighted his support and sympathy for the trans community. “Aunt Rita’s Foundation acknowledges that the trans community is disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS and healthcare challenges. It’s been said that HIV-positive individuals and trans individuals used to have one thing in common – we didn’t expect to have a Happily Ever After. That’s no longer true and we want to CELEBRATE our success as we work to a healthier and stronger community.” 

The foundation will be sponsored by Walgreens for the walk, an arrangement dating back to the walk’s inception in 2009. As the press release from Aunt Rita’s Foundation highlighted: “For $1 at any Walgreens in the greater metropolitan area, you receive an AIDS Walk wrist band with 100% of the proceeds benefiting the event on Feb. 19, 2022.” 

The walk will be held on Saturday, Feb. 19 at Tempe Beach Park, 250 W. Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe. Registration begins at 1 p.m. with the Walk & Run starting at 3. Registration fees are $35 for virtual walkers, $45 for runners and walkers, $20 for student walkers (middle school, high school and college students with student IDs) and $10 for PAWS for the Cause for walkers and runners to bring their dogs.

Visit www.aidswalkarizona.org.in order to register.

Photo courtesy of The Dinah

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