The Friends For Life Bike Rally is the annual fundraising initiative for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation (PWA) — the largest direct service provider for people living with HIV in Canada. The rally, now in its 17th year, has been instrumental in the sustainability of the organization.
Up to 400 people have registered for the rally this year and are ready to embark on a six-day trek from Toronto to Montreal. Participants raise funds through individual sponsorship and donations within the community.
Between 2003–2014, PWA has provided over $214,224 in financial assistance to 939 clients. It has also helped 320 people living with HIV/AIDS gain access to life-saving medications.
Murray Jose-Boerbridge, executive director of PWA, says the funds raised through the Friends For Life Bike Rally are used to address funding gaps in HIV care across Toronto.
“PWA and other HIV service groups in Toronto are incredibly fortunate to have significant support from diverse individuals and communities. In addition, there is strong support at the provincial level, our core funder, through the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care,” Jose-Boerbridge says. “However, changes to available funding at the City of Toronto and federal level have created challenges to offering the important programs needed.”
With the money raised through the rally, PWA is able to provide meaningful education, outreach and awareness to the broader community. Jose-Boerbridge says that the enduring stigma associated with HIV/AIDS acts as a barrier for fundraising initiatives like the Friends For Life Bike Rally. But without the success of the rally each year, the wealth of resources and support offered by PWA would not be possible.
“General public misperceptions around HIV, available treatment and ongoing stigma also contribute to challenges in raising important financial support. PWA not only provides critical practical support services, but does so in a way that recognizes the incredible impact of meaningfully engaging with each other. PWA’s Friends for Life Bike Rally is the sustaining fundraiser for PWA. Without the support provided through this event, PWA would not be able to offer the range of practical and holistic services to close to 2,500 people living with HIV in Toronto.”
“A key aspect contributing to the success and impact of the bike rally is that the experience participants have as a community is so similar to the kind of community that people living with HIV often experience in connecting with PWA. It creates an incredible opportunity to more deeply understand the importance of connecting, sharing, contributing and working towards improving yourself and the lives of others.”
In 2013-2014, PWA provided almost a quarter of a million services to people living with HIV, including training and education opportunities, therapeutic services, referrals and meal delivery. Jose-Boerbridge says that people living with HIV/AIDS in Toronto — a quarter of Canada’s HIV-positive population lives in the city — are very fortunate to have access to direct support services from PWA and other HIV groups.
“We provide resources that enable people to find their own path to meaningful involvement – involvement in their own health, well-being, in community, in providing services, in imagining and living into their dreams,” he says.