Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Eating Out can be a vote for life

The Aliveness Project provides help for AIDS patients

Help others by helping yourself to a delicious meal at one of 60 metro area restaurants. That’s the invitation from The Aliveness Project, organizers of the annual Dining Out for Life restaurant experience. This year’s event is planned for Thurs-day, April 28.
Dining Out for Life benefits the project’s south Minneapolis nonprofit community center. It’s been providing services and programs for the HIV/AIDS community for 20 years. Participating restaurants commit to contributing a percentage of their April 28 proceeds.
“Some congregations make this an annual social event,” says Joe Larson, executive director of The Aliveness Project. One of these is Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer (ELCA), where Larson at-tends. He’s a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, and Luther Semi-nary, St. Paul.
Last year’s event raised $46,000 for Aliveness. This year’s restaurants are listed on the website www.dining outforlife.com. Some offer breakfast, some lunch, dinner, or a combination. Spon-sors include City Pages, Drive 105 Radio and WCCO-TV. Aliveness event coordinator Tim Marburger, who is youth minister at Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer, directs the local Dining Out for Life effort. Volunteer ambassadors greet people at several of the sites. There are counterparts in cities nationwide.
The Aliveness Project originated in 1985 among a small group of people with HIV in need of a place for emotional support. “It started with potluck meals in people’s homes,” Larson says. “We moved into our present building in 1987. Our meal program continues to be the biggest part of the project. We served 27,466 individual meals in 2004. We distributed 75,000 pounds of food through our food shelf.
“We’re a lot like a church community. We call our participants members, not clients. People who can’t be open about their status, at work or even with their families, know this is a safe place for them to be.”
Services are free to members. Anyone who is HIV positive is eligible for membership.
The name Aliveness emphasizes hope and possibility. “We have long-term survivors. People are living longer with HIV due largely to current anti-retroviral drugs,” Larson says. “We also have newly diagnosed individuals who have tested positive for HIV. They often are despondent. They feel as if they’ve received a death sentence. They don’t know what it’s like to live with HIV or how it’s going to affect them long-term.”
Larson says the organization has an HIV prevention program which helps people who are infected avoid spreading the virus to their partners. “Since the beginning, we have also given complementary care. Alternative medicine can help alleviate symptoms of HIV disease as well as drug side effects.”
Alternative offerings of the center include acupuncture, massage and chiropractic treatment, staffed by professionals, some on contract, some who volunteer.
Each Christmas, Alive-ness provides holiday baskets of new clothing, quilts, toys and other gifts to HIV-infected individuals and family members who are in need or feel isolated. Congregations can adopt a basket and individual volunteers can donate gifts, sew stockings, bake cookies, help make quilts, and, on Christ-mas Eve, assemble and help deliver baskets.
“We have people who volunteer year round, working tirelessly to assist our small staff,” Larson says. In addition to Larson and Marburger, staffers include Johnny Herda-Brown, director of membership services; and Monica Travis, director of volunteer services. Vol-unteer opportunities include duties in the kitchen, food shelf, front desk, professional services, housekeeping, newsletter, and special events. The Aliveness newsletter reaches 2,200 people monthly.
“A large percentage of our annual budget comes from individual and group donations,” Larson says. “Congregations give support by holding drives for food and contributions. Gifts are tax-deductible and may include checks, cash or in-kind donations. We invite the donation of cars.
“Like other service agencies, we’re facing diminishing state and federal funding. A $20,000 government grant was completely eliminated March 1. We’re replacing some of that with foundation grants, but contributions are an ongoing need.”
The Aliveness Project opens its doors to other groups. Alcoholics Anony-mous meets at the center on Thursday nights and Crystal Meth Anonymous meets Sunday nights. Aliveness is a beneficiary of Minnesota Red Ribbon Ride, an annual 300-mile bicycle tour through southern Minnesota.
To learn more about The Aliveness Project, to contribute or to volunteer, phone (612) 822-7946; fax (612)
822-9668; or visit the website, www.aliveness.org. This month, don’t forget Dining Out for Life, April 28.