August 30 is National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Achieving Together interviewed Evelyn Grimes and Asha Heller of Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Frisco, Texas.
Please tell us about yourselves and your AIDS outreach ministry.
The AIDS Outreach Ministry (AOM) is one of several outreach ministries within Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Frisco TX. The AOM was started in the late 90’s by a parishioner, Mary, in honor of her brother who died of AIDS. She started the monthly AIDS Supper Club, which brought hot meals to the residents of AIDS Services of Dallas (ASD). Mary would collect the requested menu donations from our parishioners and bring the food to the residents of the Ewing Center, one of ASD’s four medically supportive housing facilities for people living with HIV and AIDS. After some time, another parishioner, Jennifer Greenlee, began volunteering with Mary. After Mary moved away in 2004, Jen took over the ministry so that St Francis could continue to provide food and fellowship for the residents of ASD. Over the next few years, three additional volunteers, Evelyn, Asha, and Posey, joined the ministry and it was able to grow to include the three other housing complexes owned by ASD. In 2015 Jen moved away, and the three remaining volunteers took over the reins and remained dedicated to continuing this ministry.
In 2017, it was decided that the ministry could better support the residents of AIDS Services of Dallas by providing basic toiletries and medical supplies. Regardless of what is needed, the AOM’s core mission is to support those experiencing hardship on their life’s journey. Currently, the ministry is comprised of four dedicated volunteers who communicate the needs of the residents, with the parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi, as well as providing grooming supplies and essential need from the monetary donations. This ministry is fully funded by the generosity of parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi.
What role can/do faith-based organizations play in supporting people living with HIV?
Outreach is a core foundation of our faith. We must reach out in love and compassion to others, and be a voice in the community against poverty, violence, and injustice.
How do HIV services fit within the mission of your organization?
As Christians, we are all called to perform the corporal works of mercy, to help all of our brothers and sisters who are in need, regardless of where they are in their life’s journey. Per the teachings of the gospels, Christ commanded us to feed the hungry, visit the sick, shelter the homeless, give drink to the thirsty, and give alms to the poor. The AOM is just one of many outreach ministries focused on these works of mercy.
What are some of the barriers you’ve observed that prevent successful interactions between faith-based organizations and people living with HIV?
Fear and stigma from lack of education regarding this disease continue to be barriers. Most often, regarding HIV and how it is transmitted, that having AIDS is a death sentence, as well as the continuing myth that HIV and AIDS mainly affects gay men.
How can HIV advocates initiate conversations with or collaborate with communities of faith?
Through works such as this blog – getting information out regarding faith-based organizations that are partnering with organizations and agencies such as AIDS Services of Dallas, The Resource Center, and AIDS Interfaith Network, that are successful in their efforts to assist those living with HIV and AIDS. Agencies should be encouraged to reach out to the local faith-based organizations in their area, to introduce themselves and share their missions, and how the faith-based organizations may assist them. Having these organizations be the initiators to partnership may speed up the process by letting the faith-based community know the assistance is needed. For St Francis, as mentioned above, had it not been for a parishioner who had a family member affected by AIDS/HIV and a resident of the Ewing House, the needs of ASD may not have been revealed.
How can (or do) you use your role to create inclusive and stigma-free environments to people living with HIV?
We are not quiet about what we do, and we remain visible within the church. We do this through our annual monetary collection weekend, announcements in the bulletin, and from the pulpit, as well as monthly communication to the donation volunteers. We also have a monthly collection of grooming supplies at the church. Parishioners can see our ministry at work. We also ensure we make time to answer questions and educate people about HIV.
We request grooming supplies monthly through “Sign-Up Genesis” which reminds the volunteers of the much-needed items.
Monthly Items collected include:
- Toilet paper
- Paper towels
- Laundry detergent
- Dryer sheets
- Shampoo/ethnic hair care products
- Shaving cream
- Feminine hygiene
- Soap/body wash
- Body lotion
- Facial tissue
- Cotton swabs/cotton balls
- Pill boxes
- Hand sanitizers
Community is one of the Achieving Together movement’s guiding principles. Lasting change happens at the local level among people who are working together, such as the AIDS Outreach Ministry and AIDS Services Dallas, to create a healthy community.