More than 260 volunteers and 1,000 marchers raised $375,000 at the annual AIDS Walk for Life on Sept 23, and money continues to come in.
AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) co-chair Jamie Slater announced the total at 4pm Sunday and says the final tally will be available next week.
Though organizers hoped to reach $500,000, Slater says he’s happy with the result, especially considering cloudy skies likely kept many supporters indoors.
The annual march raises funds for ACT to continue developing programs and providing services for people living with HIV and AIDS.
Since advocates first addressed AIDS in the 1980s, programming has expanded to include more communities that are affected by HIV, says Adam Ferraro, ACT’s communications coordinator.
ACT has programs geared toward young people, women, men, new Canadians and the aging population. It does everything from preventative work, to online outreach, to counselling, Ferraro says.
“AIDS isn’t over,” he says. “It’s still something that we, as a community and a city, have to work towards eliminating.”
According to the Public Health Agency, one in four new HIV diagnoses are among people under 30, and one in five is among women. Meanwhile, one in five gay men are living with HIV.
In Toronto, two people are infected with HIV each day, and an estimated 20,000 Torontonians live with the disease.
Along the downtown route, the marchers paused at the AIDS Memorial to hang red flowers in honour of those who have lost their lives to AIDS.
Toronto artist George MacIntyre was at the march with every reason to celebrate: this month marks 30 years since he tested positive for HIV.
“It takes great courage to come out and say that,” he says.
He hopes to inspire others to keep going, noting that the positive environment at the annual fundraiser has given him strength.
MacIntyre has chronicled 40 years of gay Toronto history through a series of 12 paintings, the last depicting the Rosar-Morrison Funeral Home, the first funeral home in Toronto willing to bury people who had died of AIDS-related illness.
Long-time ACT volunteer Jim Billing has been living with HIV for more than 25 years. Coming to the march is a chance for him to see many friends and debunk myths that AIDS is no longer a pressing issue.
“[This march] means a great deal to me,” he says. “There’s still a lot of need.”
The community fair was a mixture of local merchants, gay and lesbian organizations, and HIV/AIDS service providers. AIDS Action Now sold T-shirts with the slogans “Harper Equals Death” and “We Are Not Criminals” as part of a campaign to combat social stigma and advocate for government support around HIV/AIDS.
This year, local talents The Doubts and DJ Aural wrapped up the event, playing until only a few people remained dancing in the rain.