The list of organizations and people who have raised money to keep PWA going is huge. The coin box — “Please give a quarter for a quarter century. Making a posi+ive difference” — program is being ramped up, and MLT, Pie in the Sky, the Pride and Remembrance Run, the Tighty Whitey Car Wash, MCC, the Joy Drive and other programs have also contributed. PWA is extremely grateful to all the community members who have dropped off non-perishable food items.
“We’re all either infected or affected,” says Dwayne Bryk. “I became aware of PWA’s Speakers Bureau program in 1995 or ’96 as a result of the progression of my HIV. What it gave me was aspects of emotional and spiritual healing. I became a storyteller of my experience.” Bryk was a schoolteacher when he discovered he was HIV-positive more than 30 years ago. “I was living with HIV in a classroom and a workplace at a time when HIV/AIDS could not be openly spoken of. The ramifications could be termination. The birth of the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation in 1987 was the day that I no longer felt alone.”
Bryk has been active in Spearhead for even longer. “It’s a brotherhood of men not only wanting to be together socially, but asking, ‘How can we help?’ Each year the membership invites organizations to come in and make a presentation. It’s always a difficult choice. PWA has been the recipient for three years, but this year Spearhead has taken on Youth Line.” As Mr Spearhead 2011, Bryk devoted a lot of energy to fundraising for PWA. “I made a plea to stay on as a fundraiser for food programs. Last year we raised $7,000, and every penny counts. I want to raise more this year but also to have some fun.” Bryk pulls out a Friend of the Foundation Award from PWA that he received for his work. He laughs, “And they gave me this for having fun.”
Bryk says, “The most exciting moment when I became Mr Spearhead 2011 was when I was invited to come down to the Essentials Market. What I envisioned and what I experienced were totally different. What PWA has done is humanize the experience of living with HIV by making it possible to access something as basic as food and humanizing it by making it shopping and interacting with the staff. It should be a model for that type of service.”
The Imperial Court of Toronto (TICOT), also celebrating its 25th anniversary, has raised $28,453.56 for PWA as of May 22, 2012. Reigning Empress Candice Kelly was also Empress IX: “I remember friends saying, ‘Can you help me?’ and all I could do was take them to PWA and ask for help. We didn’t know where to turn. That’s how I got involved.”
Raising money for food for PWA has been a constant for Kelly. “When I first became empress, the founder of TICOT gave me a job. All of the past empresses were weighed and timesed by three. That was the amount of food I had to collect. Over 9,000 pounds, and back then it was really tough. But my kitchen was full of food, and we finally collected almost 22,000 pounds. I went to the food bank as empress in my crown and gown and helped give out coupons. I’ve been ill most of my life — I had polio, but I’ve never been HIV-positive — and I was helped out so much during my childhood that I enjoy the charity side of things. Different empresses pick different charities, but PWA and Food for Life really need the money. Let’s have a good time and raise money. I want people to laugh, ’cause if you don’t you’re just going to cry. And I spent enough time sitting at home and crying.”
The empress has got down and dirty, with stints as kitchen help at AIDS Ottawa and calling Bingo at Traxx. “A lot of the customers were clients of PWA, and they didn’t push me aside because I wasn’t sick. They weren’t afraid to hold and be held. They treated me as part of the family. I can remember a friend who wanted to be part of the group and just take from PWA. There are assholes in every part of the community. He ended up HIV-positive and died. I keep saying, ‘Play safe, kids,’ but it’s like talking to a wall. I don’t hesitate to tell anyone to go to PWA and talk to them. There’s not as many sick now, thank god, but I do have lots of friends who have been ill forever. We lost a lot in the ’90s, but now the pills are better. Twenty-five years is a celebration — a celebration of keeping people alive.”