Annual gala raises money for AIDS 

Nearly 1,000 of The City’s most caring citizens will join the AIDS Emergency Fund’s volunteers and staff at the San Francisco Marriott for a gala 25th anniversary fundraising event today. The event will mark two significant milestones for AEF, celebrating their 25 years of service to the community but also the $25 million they plan to contribute in the coming weeks to benefit those suffering from HIV and AIDS.

In addition to recognizing those milestones, the gala will double as a fundraiser to generate new monies to continue AEF’s important community service. Since 1982, the AEF has provided financial assistance to San Francisco residents diagnosed with AIDS, helping to pay for basic living expenses like rent, utilities and uninsured medical costs. Major presenting underwriters for the gala include AT&T, the Bo Ross Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, whose donations make it possible for 100 percent of the proceeds from all ticket sales to be donated to AEF clients.

"After 25 years and $25 million in aid, this event truly speaks to the level of commitment displayed by the people of this community," said Michael Smith, 47, who has served as the organization’s executive director since 2002. "Simultaneously, it demonstrates the continued need for this support. There are many people in our community living with AIDS and who are in financial crisis. They need our help to make ends meet.

"All the proceeds go to our clients because the corporate sponsors have covered our costs. One hundred percent of what we raise in donations goes to a separate account for clients. All our overhead is paid for by corporate and government money."

With a silent auction and cocktail party signaling the onset of the festivities, the special guests, masters of ceremony and performers at the dinner include comedian Bruce Vilanch, of "Celebrity Fit Club" fame, singers Sharon McNight and Donna Sachet, a cappella singing trio SDK, and the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band.

Following the dinner, another highlight of the evening will be a performance by former Miss America contestant and current dance-floor sensation Kristine W, coupled with the world video premiere of her latest single, "Walk Away." Her live set will kick off the dance portion of the evening, a retro, disco-themed event (in honor of the fund’s modest, early-1980s beginnings) featuring DJ Matt Consola from the Mighty nightclub.

AEF also will present a special audio and visual presentation recounting its storied history and celebrating early founders and community leaders who helped build the organization into what it has become today. Co-founder Rick Booth, who initially helped establish the AEF out of his own living room, will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Since its foundation, the AIDS Emergency Fund has provided millions in emergency financial assistance to people facing the debilitating challenges of HIV and AIDS. Each year approximately 2,500 low-income San Franciscans get help from AEF, enabling them to maintain housing and utility services, make medical co-payments, and meet other critical expenses that might otherwise tip the scales against them in their life-or-death struggles.

To qualify for emergency financial assistance from AEF, clients must have disabling HIV or AIDS and an income below $1,200 per month. Ninety percent of AEF’s clients live on less than $800 per month, primarily Social Security Disability Income. In a city with extraordinarily high rents, it is not surprising that about 80 percent of all clients use their emergency funds to pay rent in order to avoid eviction and homelessness. In 2001, AEF launched a similar program, Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, for women facing economic hardship while battling breast cancer.

Their anniversary party will be held at the San Francisco Marriott on 55 Fourth St.; the evening’s first activities are scheduled to commence at 6:30 p.m. Among those expected to attend are honorary AEF committee members Mayor Gavin Newsom and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Tickets are $195 and are available for purchase at www.aidsemergencyfund.org.

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