Blankets for AIDS drives on in sixth year

Local organization strives to provide 1,700 with warmth this winter

by Jessica Carreras

For the sixth year in a row, HIV/AIDS support organization Higher Ground is holding the Blankets for AIDS Drive. The two month-long drive, running from mid-October to Dec. 13, aims to provide much-needed warmth to people in the metro Detroit area suffering from HIV/AIDS.

"There are still people out there that are dying of AIDS," explained David Donovan, Higher Ground's director of programs. "And there's a lot of people out there that are by themselves, struggling with this."

Of course, Higher Ground is all about helping people year round who are struggling. The nonprofit organization said its purpose is to empower people living with HIV/AIDS by providing support that targets physical, mental and spiritual healing. Each year, they work to enrich and lengthen the lives of thousands of people in southeastern Michigan through workshops, support groups and involvement in such events as the Detroit AIDS Walk and their blanket drive.

Through the drive, Higher Ground has provided over 6,000 blankets since beginning in 2003. The blankets go to over 20 local organizations, including AIDS Partnership Michigan, the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, Alternatives for Girls, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, Children's Hospital, Latino Family Services and others.

Currently, the group has collected around 50 blankets from community members. They have also been able to purchase 800 from a wholesaler with donations given by the department store Kohl's, plus money raised by fundraising.

However, Higher Ground is looking to double that number by mid-December.

"We're right now calling all the different agencies in the metro Detroit tri-county area to see what their needs are this year," said Donovan. "We're expecting that to be bigger with the economy conditions that we have."

As such, they are holding several upcoming bar night fundraisers, as well as participating in World AIDS Day events around the area.

This Saturday, they'll be at the Male Box Bar in Detroit, where they'll raffle off a couple of gift baskets, as well as items donated from bookstores, clothing companies and others. The following Saturday, they'll be at SoHo in Ferndale for a night of hors d'oeuvres that will move to 9 nightclub around 11 p.m.

Later in the month, Higher Ground will team up with the Detroit Department of Public Health for their World AIDS Day event to speak and ask for donations of cash and blankets. They will also be working with the Metropolitan Community Church and Motor City Bears on several World AIDS Day events, collecting these much-needed blankets for families, individuals and children living with HIV/AIDS.

But the biggest recipients out of this drive, said Donovan, are the members of Higher Ground who help to make it happen. "The members of Higher Ground receive a lot of help and support, so this is a way that they felt that they could try to give something back to the community as a way of thanking the area for the help that they get," he explained.

Moreover, he said, it helps them to overcome the shame often associated with HIV/AIDS. "The members that actually go and participate and go to the bar nights and do the fundraisers and go deliver blankets, it actually helps them grow," Donovan said. "You know, to overcome the fear and stigma and get out into the world a little bit more and feel good about themselves by helping other people.

"There are people who have actually gone to give out blankets and thought that they're doing a good thing, but then they actually got overwhelmed by the response that they received and it actually, they felt like they got a gift instead from giving out the blankets," he continued. "It's a whole growth experience for the members that do this as well as giving out to the community."

Higher Ground will be collecting blankets until Dec. 13 at such locations as Whole Foods Markets in Troy, West Bloomfield and Rochester Hills. For more locations or information on upcoming events, visithttp://www.hghiv.org

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