Ending what AIDS Emergency Fund Executive Director Mike Smith called "a long and frustrating search" for a large venue for the agency's 30th anniversary benefit, he received some good news this week when the board of the National AIDS Memorial Grove voted to offer its site – complete with clear tent – for AEF's evening event without charge.
The decision came about because the tent will already be set up on site for the grove's third annual Light in the Grove benefit the evening of November 30, and will be in use for the grove's 19th annual World AIDS Day observance on the afternoon of December 1, said John Cunningham. Executive director of the grove.
AEF's benefit is set for the evening of December 1.
"This was an easy and logical choice for us," Cunningham said in a statement. "We want the grove to be a resource to the community."
In an interview Monday, April 30, Cunningham said that he and Smith determined that there were not too many donors that both agencies had in common so an AEF benefit would not hinder the grove's own fundraiser.
"It's appropriate for us to step forward and support another organization and we're really hoping those out there will reach out to fellow AIDS service organizations," Cunningham said.
He added that the grove, located in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, is one of the area's "best kept secrets" and the AEF event "gives another opportunity to showcase" the memorial to people who may not have been there.
The Light in the Grove fundraiser started in 2010 when Cunningham became aware that while the World AIDS Day observance was "deeply moving," some people were "observed out."
"Many individuals were looking for a way to connect and the tent being there utilized the literal light of the grove and the light of the community," said Cunningham.
"We didn't know what we would create," he said.
The clear tent, which takes about a week to fully assemble on site, costs about $36,000, Cunningham said. For the last nine years Wells Fargo Bank has owned sponsorship of the World AIDS Day event, including the cost of the tent. It will this year, too, he said.
For his part, Smith was ecstatic that AEF will not have to pay for rental of a hotel ballroom. The agency will be using the grove's caterers, which will be cost-effective, he added.
"We've been struggling with where to do the 30th anniversary event," Smith told the Bay Area Reporter , adding that the grove's offer will save AEF between $30,000 and $40,000.
"Free use of the tent, and the chance to partner with the grove's chosen caterers and event rental companies, will allow us to produce a cost-effective event that raises substantial funds for our program, while offering AEF's family of donors a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Smith said.
AEF plans a festive "Under the Big Top" circus-themed party to mark its 30th year. The organization, which provides emergency financial assistance to low-income people with disabling HIV/AIDS, has set an ambitious goal of raising $300,000 in new funds during the year, and is helping people organize "Parties with a Purpose."
Tickets for both the Light in the Grove and AEF's anniversary benefit will go on sale this summer. For more information on the grove, visit www.aidsmemorial.org. For information about AEF, visit www.aef-sf.org.