Aliveness Project organizes gifts for HIV/AIDS patients

by Elizabeth Putnam

Stephanie Morem spent Monday afternoon wrapping puzzles, kitchen utensils and Barbie toothbrushes. The gifts, however, are not for relatives or friends. They are for children and adults affected by HIV/AIDS.

Morem and other members of Hillel, the Jewish Student Cultural Center, spent three hours wrapping gifts and organizing gift baskets for the Aliveness Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping those with HIV/AIDS. The baskets will be distributed to more than 650 men, women and families affected by the disease.

“I read somewhere that volunteers necessarily don’t have the time, but they have the heart,” said Hillel member, volunteer and former Minnesota Daily columnist Dana Ruggiero. “There’s a feel-good factor to volunteering.”

Hillel community service coordinator Deah Blanke said Hillel has been volunteering for the Aliveness Project for more than two years as a way to give back to the community.

Hillel Co-President Alissa Smith said although volunteers aren’t able to meet those being helped, the outreach is rewarding.

“It takes you out of your own world and you realize there are people out there living with other problems. You are aware of the outside world,” Smith said.

The Aliveness Project, located in south Minneapolis, is a nonprofit organization that provides education, therapy and food to those with HIV/AIDS throughout the Twin Cities.

“We’ve been putting together holiday baskets for 14 years,” said Tracy Burns, Aliveness Project volunteer coordinator. “This year we have baskets for those celebrating Hanukkah as well as Christmas.”

The Aliveness Project begins collecting donations from large corporations in September and continues collection through delivery day, Dec. 24.

The boxes are divided into three categories: men, women and families. Food, toys, clothing and toiletries fill the boxes.

Corporate donations such as Lands’ End clothing, Regis hair products and Marshall Fields teddy bears are some of the items donated.

Having HIV/AIDS is the only criterion to receive a basket.

Executive director Scott Schlaffman said he has not seen a decrease in donations since Sept. 11 but has seen an increase in volunteers.

“It’s hard to gauge the effect of the attacks because (donations vary) from year-to-year,” Schlaffman said.

Money for the project comes from federal and state funding and local donations.

Schlaffman said this is his last week working at the Aliveness Project after more than 10 years of volunteer service.

He was recently recognized by KARE-TV as an outstanding community volunteer.

Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected]