AIDS Memorial Quilt touches hearts at Philadelphia synagogue

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "When I see the quilt, I really try to get a sense of the person that the panel was memorializing, and that's so easy to do," said Robb Reichard. "Too often, we talk about numbers. This shows the human impact of the epidemic."

Reichard, the Executive Director of AIDS Fund, knows all too well that the AIDS epidemic is still ongoing. Fortunately, there have been life-saving medical breakthroughs since the 1980s. However, his organization's goal is to reach zero new infections, zero deaths, and zero stigma.

"Most people know us as the producer of the Philadelphia AIDS Walk," said Reichard. "But what we do is provide emergency financial assistance to people living with HIV when their financial crisis could become a health crisis."

Another part of their mission is to raise awareness for the disease. Throughout the year, they display pieces of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at various community events. Considered the largest community art project in the world, the quilt is an ever-growing tribute to every life lost to AIDS-related complications. Today, one of AIDS Fund's largest amalgamations of the quilt popped up at Congregation Rodeph Shalom.

"Having worked with and having friends who are part of that community, this is very meaningful to me," said Ellen Poster, who is on the Board of Directors at Congregation Rodeph Shalom.

Poster represented members of the LGBTQ+ community as a lawyer for 45 years. Her congregation brought the AIDS Memorial Quilt into its halls today as another way to reach out and support that same community.

"A large percentage of our congregation is LGBTQ as a result of the merge with Beth Ahavah," she said. "And the fact that we outreach to the gay community of Philadelphia."

Volunteers with AIDS Fund and members of the congregation took turns reciting the names of those who lost their lives to the disease. Massimo Lavelle had the chance to recognize a significant person on the podium completely by chance.

"The small section that I was reading happened to be my uncle's," he said. "So that was a pretty rare occurrence, but also a special one."

Lavelle's uncle, James, and Jame's partner, Jeff, both passed away from AIDS during the 1990s. Despite their prognosis, each made significant contributions while they were alive. James became an infectious disease specialist and Jeff became involved with AIDS-related fundraising.

To support them, Lavelle and his mother participated in the very first AIDS Walk in 1987. They have since participated during every subsequent year.

"I was one year old at the first AIDS Walk," said Lavelle. "It's a beautiful pattern in my life."

Although the AIDS Memorial Quilt was only installed for a single day at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, it won't be the last time that locals can see it.

"We have displays coming up in recognition of World AIDS Day on December 1, and if somebody wants to have it, they can call our office, request to do a display," said Robb Reichard. "We're happy to do that. We do it throughout the year."

Reichard hopes it will continue to encourage people to stay proactive in the fight against HIV and always know their at-risk status.

"Today, we have very good treatments for it. People can get into care and stay in care," he said. "We can help somebody live a long and healthy life with HIV."

To learn more about AIDS Fund, visit their website.

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