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San Diego organizations participate in World AIDS Day

San Diego organizations this week held events in conjunction with World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and honor those lost to the virus.

Among the events held locally was the 31st annual tree lighting and candlelight vigil at the Hillcrest Retail Center. It was organized by Mama’s Kitchen — the San Diego nonprofit dedicated to serving food to people with HIV and other critical illnesses.

“As a gay man, as a Latino man, I’ve had peers in many segments of my life who’ve lived with and died of AIDS” said Alberto Cortes, CEO of Mama’s Kitchen. “So for me, this event also has a very intimate meaning and impact.”

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On sale at the event were heart-shaped ornaments that people could personalize with messages to those impacted by HIV/AIDS. Proceeds from the ornament sales went to Mama’s Kitchen.

The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day was “Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV.” The goal was to highlight the need for equal healthcare access for those affected by the virus.

In the developed world, new treatments have made HIV/AIDS a chronic illness, rather than the death sentence it once was. But many of the more than 13,000 San Diegans living with the virus face other struggles, including financial ones.

Hillcrest-based Being Alive is one of the organizations that helps people navigate the healthcare system.

“Most of our clients are forced to live at or below the poverty line in order to qualify for their medical care”, said Shannon Wagner, Being Alive’s executive director. “You can’t make more than 800 dollars a month.”.