Twenty-two years after Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life started in Kingston, event organizers have seen a decrease in donations for the event.
“When we first started them in the 90s we had 300 or 400 people out and would raise on average around $25,000 a year,” John MacTavish, executive director for HIV/AIDS Regional Services (HARS) in Kingston, said, “but that was the beginning of it, it was a crisis.”
HARS is the host organization for the annual Kingston Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life. Approximately 150 people attended the event on Saturday, a decrease of 50 people from last year.
The walk began in City Park and included groups of children leading the walk that went down Princess St.
This year’s Walk for Life raised $13,000 from online donations and cheques — $3,000 more than organizers had expected.
The annual lantern festival, a regular component of the Walk that signifies resilience for those with HIV, was cancelled due to bad weather.
MacTavish said he attributes the decrease in overall funds raised at the Walk partly to the fundraising for other issues people are supporting.
“There’s only so much money to go around,” he said. “If it’s your family member living with cancer, you’re going to support that, and you have to find ways to work with that and work with the other groups to make it happen.”
Despite the decrease in donations and participation from last year, MacTavish said there is still a strong network of support for people living with HIV/AIDS in Kingston.
HARS offers resources to students through Health, Counselling and Disability Services at Queen’s and helps around 240 people with HIV/AIDS in Kingston each year. One of the main issues the service deals with is deconstructing the stigma around people living with the disease.
“People will look at it like it’s a matter of blame,” he said. “People have to know that it’s my friend, my neighbour, my coworker … it’s not as easy to say something negative about it or ‘we don’t care’ if we consider it on a personal level.”
The funds raised will go toward HARS access services, a project that helps people with HIV/AIDS obtain better food, medicine and transportation to clinics.
“We really strongly focus on assisting people who are living with HIV so that they can be independent and stay healthy and stay alive longer.”
As of 2008, it’s estimated that around 65,000 people in Canada live with HIV/AIDS. The Walk for Life event was held in 47 cities across Canada this year, ranging from Fredericton to Toronto. According to organizers of the Toronto event, early estimates suggest that at least 1,000 people attend and at least $375,000 was raised.
Nearly 30 years after being diagnosed with HIV, MacTavish said he’s lived a lucky life.
“I have my friendships, my family and my community,” MacTavish. “I can live very openly as a gay man with HIV and I don’t have to deal with the stigma as much as others have to.”
For MacTavish Kingston has always been more responsive to issues related to HIV/AIDS than in cities like Toronto, and this has helped people living with the disease overcome stigma.
“We always have a group of people living with HIV who are able to be vocal and that is what makes it different here,” he said. “People can get to know other people living with the virus and have a connection versus the big, broad city environments.”
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