ucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network‘s Poz Café program provides a monthly gathering for people living with HIV. Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona funds a lunch annually and, along with local synagogues, provides volunteers to shop for food, cook and serve meals. More than 25,000 meals have been served and almost 15,000 care packages distributed at Poz Café.
TIHAN sprang from local grassroots, compassionate response to community members. Representatives from area faith communities and agencies formed a steering committee in 1994 to provide education and to reduce the stigma of HIV. In the early days, like a hospice program, TIHAN supported people in the end-stages of their disease.
As additional treatments and medications became available, TIHAN’s mission of education and support continued, but programming grew to respond to changing needs. Today, volunteers provide support to help people living with HIV to live well. Today, nearly 500 volunteers from 48 participating faith communities care for 1,000 people with HIV.
“While the death rate from HIV is much lower and people can live well with HIV, the stigma is still strong, and isolation and depression remain too prevalent,” says Scott Blades, TIHAN’s CEO. “In addition to living with HIV, the vast majority of people we serve — approximately 90 percent — are also living in poverty. We connect them with resources and food as well as classes on budgeting, self-care, advocacy, and empowerment issues.”
JFSA, through the Jewish Community Relations Council, also assists Poz Café with a year-end holiday program, collecting gifts for parents and children. “Parents can select donated, unwrapped presents for children and children can select gifts for their parents,” explains Jill Rich, JCRC’s social action committee chair and vice president of the TIHAN board. Rich says the gift exchange is well received.
“We also provide items donated by community members — we need things like $25 gift cards to grocery stores, and new (unused) items such as blankets, jackets, towels, and other basics,” says Blades. “We’re seeking donations of items for our monthly CarePackages — basic things you can’t get with food stamps (EBT food card): toiletries, personal care, and cleaning items such as toilet tissue, bar soap, body wash, laundry detergent, shampoo, dish detergent, bleach, disinfectant household cleaner, deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste, feminine care products, and disposable razors,” he adds. “When we can take a bit of the financial burden off of one of our fixed income clients with HIV, it can really decrease stress and make a difference to them.”
For additional information, contact www.tihan.org.