Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network (TIHAN) has been around since 1994. Briefly, its mission is to educate the community about the HIV/AIDS and to provide compassionate support for those affected by HIV/AIDS. St. Philip’s In The Hills is one of more than 40 member congregations.
In November, a team of seven from St. Philip’s joined volunteers from the Jewish Community Relations Council, Water of Life Metropolitan Community Church, and TIHAN volunteers and staff for TIHAN’s Poz Café, one of TIHAN’s most visible programs.
Poz Café started with just a handful of people at those first luncheons so many years ago. Poz Café is now the largest regular gathering place for people living with HIV in Southern Arizona! The monthly gathering offers a meal, hugs, and a “safe space,” enabling TIHAN’s CarePartners to meet others living with HIV, socialize (many are isolated), and know that there are caring people from faith communities who welcome them and are working to end the stigma that still exists.
Soon after arrival, congregational volunteers attend Education Hour, where they learn about the beginning of Poz Café and how it’s evolved to the present-day organization. Also included are a presentation on HIV 101, so the congregational volunteers are prepared to serve with a common level of knowledge about these issues, and a personal story of someone living with HIV and becoming part of the TIHAN community, giving the educational facts a real-life context.
With guidance from TIHAN staff and volunteers, St. Philippians helped prepare a Thanksgiving meal for 135 CarePartners, their guests, and volunteers and staff. Duties included salad making, rolling silverware, setting the tables, serving dessert, and lots of clean up and dish washing.
During Poz Café, 83 CarePackages — decorated bags filled with toiletry items — were distributed to CarePartners living with HIV/AIDS. Often CarePartners receive assistance with their monthly expenses via food stamps, and the CarePackages feature items for which food stamps cannot be used. Every month, the sponsoring faith communities donate the products used in stuffing these bags.
Clergy from the sponsoring congregations take turns calling Bingo; many CarePartners received prizes by winning Bingo or a raffle.
This was the first time many of our crew had participated in Poz Café. Afterwards, they spoke so positively of the experience. Beth Brouillette loved it. She said, “(they) put a specific task in front of me with the tools I needed to do it. When it was time to leave, I felt like I’d accomplished something that mattered.” Bob Stanton was also glad that he’d volunteered. Beause he serves as an usher at St. Philip’s, he was very comfortable greeting the CarePartners as they arrived and creating a welcoming, fun environment for them. Many volunteers find this hands-on ministry, with a one-time commitment, very rewarding.
Every month three different faith communities sponsor Poz Café. St. Philip’s participates once a year. If you’d like to be one of the St. Philip’s volunteers in November 2016, get in touch with out congregational representatives, Bob Kamilli or the Rev. Ralph Taylor.
If you’d like to be involved with Poz Café on a more regular basis, think about becoming a TIHAN volunteer.
—Photos courtesy of Deirdre Demers, TIHAN Program Manager