Dressed in tuxedos and sequined dresses, crowds milled among artwork Sunday at the Northern Quest Resort and Casino and listened to the pre-show of the Oscars as they celebrated the 15th year of the Spokane AIDS Network’s Oscar Night Gala.
The nonprofit agency uses the gala every year to raise as much as $40,000 to pay for needs sometimes left unmet by the grants that make up the bulk of their funding sources, Executive Director Gaye Weiss said. Along with an office in Wenatchee, the agency serves about 130 HIV and AIDS patients through a variety of programs.
“It’s a blast,” said 53-year-old Joe Ready, who volunteers as the organization’s volunteer coordinator. “It’s our largest annual fundraiser. It’s really fun and just a nice evening.”
Kim Krogh attended as a 10-year corporate sponsor with Fidelity Associates, a Spokane-based insurance firm. However, Krogh said she started coming to the gala in 1998 to support the network.
“It’s a fun event,” she said. “You get to see friends and family and all sorts of wonderful people.”
And then there’s the glitz. In her case, Krogh wore a black, sequined gown.
“I’m one of those who goes to Las Vegas every year to find the right dress,” she said with a smile. “I can’t match anyone else here. That would be a faux pas.”
Weiss said the event mixes fun with the serious job of providing services to those who suffer a disease that continues to spread through intravenous drug usage and unprotected sex.
Advances in medicine, she said, have turned HIV and AIDS from sure death into what’s now known as a chronic condition, on par with heart disease and diabetes.
Clients “are living full, productive lives. We used to help people die gracefully,” she said. “Now we have 70- and 80-year-olds who are HIV-positive when they had been dying at 25.”
Yet, with those advances comes a misunderstanding among some that the problem has gone away.
“It’s gone under the radar. We sometimes have people ask us, ‘It’s still around?’ ” she said. “But Spokane County is pushing 500 HIV or AIDS patients.”
The network helps those patients ensure they have proper medical care, Weiss said. But the network also provides prevention education, mental health services, shopping and help finding housing. It also gives 85 people a hot meal and groceries every two weeks.
“They need a very-high-protein diet to keep the assimilation of their meds,” Weiss said. “We fill the gaps that no one else is doing in the community.”
Ready, the volunteer coordinator, started working at the network as a volunteer 10 years ago. The volunteers do everything from cleaning to making sure clients follow medications, which never seems as easy as it sounds, he said.
“We have three times more volunteers than staff,” Ready said. “Our agency could not operate without our volunteer team. They are so deserving. They show up every week giving of their time. They need to be recognized.”