Two decades ago, it was a radical idea: enlist a Major League Baseball team to help bring attention to – and raise funds for – HIV/AIDS.
The San Francisco Giants became the first professional sports team to raise HIV/AIDS awareness with a special pre-game event, in partnership with Until There's a Cure. For many years the ceremony featured a moving tribute as volunteers donned in red T-shirts formed a giant red ribbon on the field. That has been retired in recent years, but the San Francisco Giants' Until There's A Cure game has remained popular. Most Giants players wear a small red ribbon on their uniforms for the game.
Until There's a Cure and the Giants will mark the 20th annual event next week.
For UTAC Executive Director Nora Hanna, the work she does related to HIV and AIDS is "extremely personal."
"This is just something I'm extremely passionate about, and I can't believe it's 2013 and we don't have the vaccine," Hanna said.
The Redwood City-based nonprofit, which also marks its 20th anniversary this year, helps groups around the world try to end the disease that's killed millions of people, including Hanna's two best friends, who died around the time UTAC was founded. Since 1994, she's worn the bracelet the agency is known for selling to raise funds.
The Until There's a Cure Day game takes place Tuesday, May 21, when the Giants play the Washington Nationals at AT&T Park. There will be a pregame home plate ceremony, which is themed "Together We Can." The Giants will honor their late closer Rod Beck, who was the initial spokesman for the first game. The special event ticket package includes a commemorative Beck Bobblehead.
"The Giants were the first team of any major league sport to recognize HIV and AIDS was a problem in our community," said Hanna. "Twenty years ago they gave us an awareness game," and the events have been happening every year since then.
For their part, the baseball team was happy to help.
"We saw how HIV and AIDS was taking the lives of so many amazing people in our community and believed it was our responsibility to use our platform to engage our fans," Giants spokeswoman Staci Slaughter said in a statement. "While the HIV/AIDS epidemic is now more global than local, we remain committed to raising awareness until a cure is found and no one person or family suffers from the effects of HIV and AIDS."
The event "reminds people that HIV and AIDS is still strong in all communities, and that the best way to stop it is to get tested, know your status, and really be part of the solution," Hanna said. Fans will also be reminded that "we need to work together" on research, services, and vaccine development. Bracelets and T-shirts will be sold throughout the ballpark.
UTAC hopes to raise $40,000 at the event, which will feature speakers representing the foundation and the Giants, and "doesn't cost us anything," Hanna said. "We've been very fortunate in that we have great relationships, and we have amazing volunteers."
Until There's a Cure has had relationships with a wide array of organizations.
Juan Arellano, a case manager at Santa Cruz AIDS Project, said his agency has used funding from UTAC to assist clients with transportation to medical appointments.
Arellano didn't know what the current budget is, but "it's being reduced a lot" due to cuts in government support. The budget used to be over $300,000 and is now less than half that.
The foundation also works with agencies outside of California.
Sally Welch, director of community services at Matthew 25, in Henderson, Kentucky, estimated she's had one of UTAC's sterling silver bracelets for 20 years.
"It's a great product, and it's a great cause, and it's always well-received," Welch said.
The nonprofit sells the UTAC's bracelets and other jewelry. Last month, the agency, which is named after a Bible passage, sold about $150 worth at a fashion show fundraiser. The unrestricted money goes into Matthew 25's general fund and helps stock the HIV/AIDS nonprofit's food pantry or is used to transport clients.
"We are a rural clinic, and sometimes they can't get to their doctors' appointments," Welch said.
Last year, Until There's a Cure used money from the Giants event to provide grants, but the foundation isn't issuing a call for grant proposals this year. Instead, UTAC will use about $20,000 to support its internship program.
"We want to inspire the next generation to get involved in the fight," Hanna said. The current advocates, scientists, and others involved in the work have been doing it "for a very long time."
"We need someone to pick up the torch," she said.
The interns' fields range from molecular biology to public policy. Projects include helping to redesign the website dedicated to Timothy Brown, the so-called Berlin Patient, who was functionally cured of HIV. The money will also "hopefully" fund a public service announcement campaign, Hanna said.
"We work with the interns to really come up with a project that suits their degree and suits what they really want to learn," she said.
The other half of the money the foundation's hoping to collect at the Giants game would go toward buying bracelets and supporting other awareness programs.
The foundation's expenses last year were about $500,000, and that isn't expected to change this year. Hanna, who's 53 and a straight ally, has a salary of $120,000. She doesn't receive any personal benefits, including medical, other than her salary.
Aside from fundraisers, the foundation has other revenue streams.
People can go online to https://until.org, buy a bracelet or other items, and designate which organization they want to support. Every three months, UTAC writes checks to the chosen agencies. Each partner gets 25 percent of the money, as designated by customers.
Of the remaining funds, 15 percent goes to administrative costs. The rest goes to support awareness work, grants, and other areas, including buying bracelets made by people living with HIV in Africa and other parts of the world.
Through the retailer program, other nonprofits introduce the foundation to a retailer that sells the jewelry. The other agency then gets a cut of those sales.
Last year, total jewelry sales were close to $380,000.
It's too soon to say how much her group expects to sell this year, but she said, "It's been a rough first quarter retail-wise, because we get affected just like the Gap would, or Levi's. When retail's soft, we feel it."
UTAC also works with other organizations including the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care and others.
As far as anniversary events, Hanna said, "We're hoping to do something in September," but plans haven't been determined.
"We've never thrown a party," she said. "We really do try to keep our expenses to a minimum."