Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund’s annual fundraising gala is set for Saturday. 

click to enlarge Chip Fudge, Shannon Fudge, Eddie Sutton, Mary Ellen Gumerson, Bill Gumerson. Photo/Shannon - SHANNON
  • Shannon
  • Chip Fudge, Shannon Fudge, Eddie Sutton, Mary Ellen Gumerson, Bill Gumerson. Photo/Shannon

A special time of year is here upon us in Oklahoma. (No, it’s not the start of football season.)

Every year since 1992, members and friends of the Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund (OACF) have come together for a fundraiser to combat HIV and AIDS in Oklahoma.

Fun fundraising

As with every year’s gala, fun, food, music and live and silent auctions are on the list of events.

Previous years’ galas have included appearances by lawmakers, professional athletes and local and national celebrities. More than 650 people have purchased tickets to the gala. Gov. Mary Fallin, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and University of Oklahoma football coaches Barry Switzer and Bob Stoops are annual attendees.

Mary Deane Streich, co-chair of this year’s gala, said this year’s entertainment includes Las Vegas-based Simon Winthrop, an award-winning magician and World Champion of Magic.

But there’s always dancing. Streich said Dr. Larry “T-Byrd” Gordon & The Music People Luv Orchestra, who are returning to provide musical entertainment, plan to get the gala’s attendees out of their seats and give them a chance to work off the fancy dinner they’ve just eaten.

Seriously entertaining

There are obviously different motives for getting locals to open their wallets to buy tickets for the gala or bid on unique items in a silent auction.

Streich said the gala’s proceeds not only comprise 100 percent of the nonprofit group’s annual operating budget but also benefit 17 programs across the state that offer education, emergency assistance and prevention aimed to fight HIV/AIDS in Oklahoma.

Since its inception, OACF’s Red Tie Night galas have raised more than $11 million. Streich said last year, OACF distributed $600,000 to fund 15 HIV/AIDS projects as a result of Red Tie Night.

And while those numbers might be impressive, OACF stretches its dollars as efficiently as possible. According to its website, a $10 donation buys a 20-minute HIV test, while $300 will pay a month’s rent or the deposit for a person suffering from HIV/AIDS complications.

OACF also operates several statewide programs aimed to prevent the disease and help Oklahomans with HIV/AIDS and their families. Its Emergency Assistance Program helps HIV/AIDS-affected Oklahomans who find themselves in an emergency financial situation. Its education and testing programs provide free and confidential HIV/AIDS and STD tests. And its HIV networking luncheons, which take place six times per year at the American Red Cross building in Oklahoma City, are designed to advance community collaboration and information-sharing among HIV/AIDS service partners.

OACF’s support dovetails with state and federal programs for HIV/AIDS prevention and education media campaigns, grant programs for HIV service agencies across the state and the Oklahoma Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA) program.

Life sentence

According to an Oklahoma State Department of Health profile, the number of HIV and AIDS-related deaths in 1990 — the year before OACF was founded — was slightly less than 150. In four years’ time, that number skyrocketed to more than 300 deaths.

However, by 1997, the HIV/AIDS mortality rate in Oklahoma had decreased to about 150 per year again and has slowly but surely decreased since then.

Dr. David Chansolme, OACF’s board vice president and a medical doctor who treats HIV/AIDS patients, chalks up that mortality rate decrease to a shift in public thinking over time, something he said OACF strongly supports.

Years ago, he said, an HIV-positive diagnosis was a death sentence, but despite HIV/AIDS being “the same disease as it was 30 years ago,” education was one of the strongest ways to help fight the disease — it is now one of OACF’s greatest challenges.

He acknowledged the two-edged sword that is AIDS and HIV education: While “it’s not as stigmatized” anymore, younger generations don’t remember the scare HIV/AIDS had at one point.

“We’ve come a long way to get there,” he said.

Chansolme also said that OACF and its partner groups identify HIV/AIDS patients earlier and place them into systems of care sooner, something he said has driven care from more inpatient in nature to more outpatient overall.

All of these efforts take caring volunteers and donors, which is, once again, where Red Tie Night comes in.

23 years

The first Red Tie Night gala netted $84,000, which was distributed to a small group of HIV/AIDS health and medical agencies in Oklahoma.

But since 2006, each annual gala’s proceeds have exceeded $1 million per year. Streich says OACF hopes to continue the $1 million-plus trend this year through its ticket sales and auction.

She said that, despite the economic downturn of the past few years, OACF has provided services “that wouldn’t happen if the money [it] raised hadn’t been put back into the community.”

Individual ticket prices begin at $350 each, which Streich said includes attendance to the event, a steak-and-shrimp banquet dinner and an open full-service bar. Streich said the bar will be serving a new signature cocktail, a tasty cranberry mojito, this year.

However, if you can’t get your tuxedo or evening gown ready in time for Red Tie Night or find formal wear a bit too stuffy, you can still help OACF continue its mission to fight HIV/AIDS through prevention, education and helping those affected through monetary donations online.

Streich said the bottom line about the Red Tie Night Gala is people having fun, serious fun, that benefits people with HIV/AIDS across the state.

Part of the event is keeping people aware that “HIV is still a problem;” keeping the public vigilant about the disease will help keep it from becoming a bigger problem, Chansolme said.

For more information on the event or to donate to the Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund or purchase tickets to the 2015 Red Tie Night gala, visit okaidscarefund.com.

Print headline: Even Redder, Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund’s annual fundraising gala is set for Saturday.

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