As many of you know, Philadelphia has a lot of thrift stores, whether in our bubble of West Philly, in Center City or on South Street. Among all of these, Philly Aids Thrift, located in South Street not too far from Penn’s landing, stands out for its two-floor building full of cheap prices, furniture, books, and clothes including suits and wedding and prom dresses . The store is run by both staff and numerous volunteers . A few days ago, I became one of those volunteers .
I first considered joining Philly Aids because I was looking for volunteer opportunities and working in a thrift store sounded like it could be an interesting experience, especially in a neighborhood like South Philly. Some of my friends had already worked there and they all loved it .
Philly Aids, a nonprofit business, was founded in 2005 and quickly grew over the next few years. It offers rapid HIV testing every other Friday in the Mazzoni Center Park, in addition to providing donations to the AIDS fund, which organizes the Philadelphia AIDS walk every October. It also has a WashWest HIV testing space . I immediately applied given that I felt that AIDS awareness is not considered as important as it used to be and wanted to be part of such a movement.
In 2012, Women With a Vision in New Orleans, a nonprofit community whose focus is HIV prevention, especially for women of color, was burnt down . This incident shows the uncertainty these groups face, largely due to the ignorance of certain people in the Deep South about the epidemic .
While the American South accounts for less than a third of the entire population, it also accounts for nearly half of the AIDS diagnoses nationally. However, both there and throughout the nation, the disease is thought of as something that happens to other people, or something simply read about in books or seen in movies such as “Philadelphia” or “Dallas Buyers Club” . This incident and these cultural references demonstrate both the lack of awareness of this issue and the lack of funding for prevention, treatment and education.
Many small, local nonprofits such as Philly Aids exist, but there are few that are national organizations. After the fire, the owner of Women With a Vision went to different cities and met with funders in person, an approach approved of by Elton John, who gave money to the nonprofit through the Elton John AIDS Foundation . Similarly, Lisa Biagiotti filmed a documentary called “deepsouth” , for which she interviewed more than 400 people across 13,000 miles.
This documentary demonstrates the stereotypes about people affected by AIDS with comments made in the 80s at the time that it was first clinically observed. AIDS is “God’s curse to homosexual life”–the people affected can’t be approached because they’re contaminated.
These comments show the underlying issue with AIDS awareness, given that 30 years have passed and none of the views have changed. The disease is not isolated to the gay community. It is actually dominantly spread through heterosexual transmission. The issue here is the ignorance about the disease and its real causes and consequences.
Indeed, because of this ignorance, little funding is provided to resolve what truly matters. The community of people affected is unfortunately living in a vulnerable environment with no access to health insurance, the highest mortality rates, the most sexually transmitted infections and the least access to health care, not enabling a pathway to being properly treated and taken care of instantly and in the future.
It is not about saving but about assisting. Volunteering at Philly Aids may not directly save the lives of those affected with AIDS in Philadelphia, but perhaps will help mentally, for the community will know that it is thought of, understood and funded . I chose the American South to talk about this because New Orleans has suffered greatly due to natural disasters but this choice to avoid discussing and treating the epidemic is man-made and results in more damage for a certain community .