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The ‘Angels’ Say Goodbye: Iconic HIV crisis help group will shut down by year’s end

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Tuesday’s Angels, via AIDS Walk Miami, Facebook.

When a group of people come together for a noble cause — such as helping those who are navigating the decades long and complex world of HIV — it might be hard to imagine an end that makes sense.

But the group Tuesday’s Angels seem to have found that end, and it’s happening this year.

“After a period of reflection and discussion the board of Tuesday’s Angels has decided to dissolve as of November 30, 2018,” the group said this month in a statement. 

“We feel like we achieved what the founders intended,” added Tuesday’s Angel’s president Mike Ross.

 

Let’s do dinner

More than 30 years ago a group of gay men started meeting for dinner in Wilton Manors once a month on Tuesday to raise money to help those in crisis due to HIV. The dinners took place at Chardee’s Lounge, (later Bill’s Filling Station), located at 2440 Wilton Drive, where a hat was passed around the table for donations.

The men wanted to help in their own small way by collecting a little money to provide a variety of assistance to HIV-positive men.

Ross began attending the dinners in 1996, soon after moving to South Florida from New Jersey, a time, he said, when the dinners brought 100 to 150 men together.

“A lot of people were affected by HIV in one way or another,” Ross said. “There was a real need.”

Ross, who is HIV-negative, said he had “many, many friends” who had died of AIDS in their 30s and 40s. 

“It gave us a strong desire to do something. Presently all the board members are HIV-negative, but have either had a lover or friends who died. We’re in that age category where we were surrounded by people dying of AIDS,” he said. “Things have improved enormously.”

Mark Ketchum, executive director of Wilton Manor’s SunServe, has known about Tuesday’s Angels for 20 years, has been to many of the dinners, and has supported the group for several years.

“I’ve been working with AIDS services since 1985,” Ketchum said. “In the beginning, we were just trying to put the fire out. For a client losing everything, and [Tuesday’s Angels] could pay their electric bill without the bureaucracy — it gave people hope,” he said.

Ketchum said the younger generation likely doesn’t understand the extent of the AIDS crisis that he, and many of the longtime supporters of Tuesday’s Angels, do.

“All of our friends were dying and the government wouldn’t do anything,” Ketchum said. “We remember when you got HIV and died in three months — those were the rules,” he said.

 

A crisis, changed

Ross and members of Tuesday’s Angels board say there have been many changes in the world of HIV. Those changes are part of why the group unanimously agreed to dissolve.

One change is that most people with HIV are now living longer lives with advances in medication. 

“There are also several HIV agencies providing services in Broward County, as well as programs for some housing and utility assistance,” a statement from the board said. “Over the past few years, Tuesday’s Angels has been serving largely a chronically ill HIV population of low income individuals rather than critically ill people in crisis,” the statement said.

Tuesday’s Angels said it has spent fewer funds on rent and utilities in recent years, and more on eyeglasses and bus passes. 

“The number of clients helped has also decreased. While there is still a great need to serve those living with HIV who are struggling financially, the initial crisis has thankfully passed,” the statement read.

Ross said as recently as three years ago Tuesday’s Angels served 500 people with direct assistance, and now it’s 300. 

“We’re here to help people in crisis. It might be a financial crises now, but not so much a health crises. A lot of people with HIV are able to work now or are on disability,” Ross said.

 

Different time, face of HIV

Another significant reason for the decision has to do with the aging of the board, donors and volunteers of Tuesday’s Angels. Ross said the younger generation hasn’t shown a lot of interest in the organization, either.

“Board members have been extremely loyal and longstanding,” said Ross, who is 67, mentioning enduring board members like Chuck Nicholls as an example. 

He said the average age of board members is about 75 and the average age of donors is about 80.

“What’s happened with our dinners is we’re getting about 30 to 35. A lot of donors have died or are sick. There’s been a lot of attrition over the years,” he said.

Ross was a screener for Tuesday’s Angels — one of the volunteers who reviewed applications for assistance. He did the job for 14 years and saw a lot of changes over that time.

“Initially [the applications were an] all-gay, all-white, male population, but that’s changed dramatically. It has changed to include women, children, and a lot of straight people,” Ross said.

Tuesday’s Angels traditionally provided funds for cremations, food, rent, utilities and other needs, often in collaboration with other HIV-related agencies. But agencies have asked more so for eyeglasses and bus passes recently, than rent and electric assistance.

Ross said other demographics have changed, too. He said Tuesday’s Angels has been primarily serving a poor (often homeless) and chronically ill population, more than people in an HIV-crisis situation. 

“There’s still a need, but it’s not so much a crisis need anymore,” Ross said. “Although people are still dying from AIDS, we’ve stopped giving money for cremation.

Like Ross, Ketchum also has seen the switch from what was primarily an overwhelming gay male population with the need for HIV services to a population including women, children, and those who are socio-economically disadvantaged.

However, Ross said it’s a mistake for people, especially young gay men, to be overconfident. 

“Don’t be complacent just because there are medications. It doesn’t mean they work 100 percent or don’t have side effects. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and I don’t think [the younger generation] realize that. They see HIV men who look healthy and are in good shape. But unless you lived in an era where you would see people who were wasting away, it wouldn’t have the same impact,” he said.

 

Local reaction

While Ross and others on the board are humble about the group’s impact over the years — calling Tuesday’s Angels a “very small organization that filled a niche” — reaction from the leaders and workers at local agencies has been wide and heartfelt.

Stacy Hyde, the president and CEO of Broward House, was introduced to the group about 17 years ago.

“I have been fortunate to see firsthand the lives Tuesday’s Angels has changed through the generosity and care of those impacted by HIV,” Hyde said. “[Their] legacy of selfless giving and caring for many cast aside will continue through the actions of the thousands of individuals and care providers [they’ve] impacted,” she said.

Added Ketchum: “They’ve been a very important part of us providing case management services for those living with HIV,” he said. “The money we receive four times a year for bus passes are like gold to our clients.” Ketchum explains that the bus passes allow many of his clients to get to important doctor’s appointments.

“We recognize the changing tides of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and how far we have come together,” said Rafael Jimenez of Care Resource. “Our hearts are bound by the love, care and remembrance of those in our lives, and how we can continue to engage the support of our communities in need,” he said of Tuesday’s Angels.

Ross is quick to credit a variety of individuals and organizations that supported Tuesday’s Angels over the years. He said the group received generous support from foundations and other organizations. A few, he said, are the Quick Tricks Duplicate Bridge Club, A Celebration of Friends, the Drial Foundation and the Hollander Foundation. Ross also gives enormous credit to an annual bicycle ride that was “a big money maker for us for 10 years that raised about $1 million.”

 

Next steps

While Tuesday’s Angels is ending the Tuesday night dinners — its assets will continue to provide support for the next 10 years, Ross said. 

The board plans on placing its assets in what will be the “Tuesday’s Angels Donor Advised Fund” at Our Fund of Wilton Manors.

“The advisors will be several of the current board members who will ensure that the money will be spent to continue the mission of providing direct assistance to financially needy people with HIV in Broward County,” the board members said in a statement. 

They consider the fund to be Tuesday’s Angel’s legacy.

The organization has never paid for offices or any administrative expenses (other than an accountant) ever since its founding. It’s allowed 100 percent of donations to go directly to those in need, Ross said.

The last dinner is scheduled for April 10. To attend and receive a reservation, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. To make a donation, send a check or money order to: Tuesday’s Angles, 1994 East Sunrise Blvd. PMD 139, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, 33304.

 

By the numbers

Tuesday’s Angel’s has given out close to $3 million over its lifetime to individuals and organizations involved in the HIV crisis. Over just the past 12 years, Tuesday’s Angels has provided the following, in addition to various grants:

  • $15,000 in telephone subsidies
  • $41,000 in cremations
  • $61,000 to The Poverello Center for basic necessities
  • $100,000 to the Children’s Diagnostic & Treatment Center (to send HIV positive children to camp.)
  • $270,000 worth of eyeglasses
  • $300,000 in utility assistance 
  • $400,000 in bus passes
  • $520,000 in rent assistance

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