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Friends for Life raises $1.5 million for Toronto People with AIDS Foundation

Annual six-day bike rally commemorates 15 years

The 2013 Friends for Life team prepares to hit the road at Queen's Park. Credit: Friends for Life Facebook page

More than 400 people set off from Toronto on a 600-kilometre journey July 28 to raise more than $1 million for the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (PWA).

The Friends for Life Bike Rally started its charitable trek from Queen’s Park, and the cyclists are biking to Montreal over six days.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the event, and many past riders have returned to celebrate the milestone. Thirteen of the original 25 cyclists from 1999 have rejoined the cause.

“It’s a very emotional bike rally,” says Robert Tomas, director of philanthropy and communications at PWA.

“The bike rally moniker is Friends for Life, and in many cases it seems to be true,” he says.

Organizers worked to attract a record number of riders to raise a record amount of money this year. They put together a retrospective exhibit detailing the fundraiser’s history at the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives this spring and got city councillors spinning outside city hall to boost registration and donations.

The extra effort paid off — 302 riders and 135 crew members registered, and they’ve raised a record $1.5 million, Tomas says.

Riders also set records for individual fundraising, with seven reaching the Crystal Jersey level — $15,000 for riders and $2,500 for crew — and 58 reaching the Gold Jersey level — $6,000 for riders and $1,000 for crew.

Over the last 15 years, Friends for Life has raised more than $10 million for PWA, accounting for 35 to 40 percent of its annual revenue. “Without the bike rally, the PWA as it is today would not exist,” Tomas says.

PWA provides services to 2,300 individuals in Toronto, ranging from financial assistance, housing support and a food bank, to massage, acupuncture and rekai therapies, to providing social spaces and even a hairdresser. “People are often stumped by this one,” Tomas says. “It’s all about self-esteem and feeling good about yourself.”

The organization is creating a strategic plan to provide services beyond the necessities and focus on getting clients to “start dreaming again, to consider employment again, to consider further education or whatever road they might take,” Tomas says.

Follow the rest of the adventure on Twitter: #fflbr15 #fflbr2013.

In another piece, Xtra asked Tomas to describe a typical day on the road