EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Lansing Area AIDS Network (LAAN) celebrated its 30th AIDS walk fundraiser on Sept. 30 at Edgewood United Church in East Lansing. Even though the event was the 30th annual walk, it was the first in-person walk since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019.
HIV, the virus which can lead to the development of AIDS, remains one of the leading health issues in the world, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. LAAN recognizes this ongoing issue and aims to spread awareness about the disease’s prevalence.
The World’s first AIDS walk was held in California in 1985 and has an important history in advocating for AIDS/HIV awareness, according to The AIDS Network. Today, LAAN is the only organization in Michigan who still facilitates this type of event.
More than 100 participants walked the 2-mile route, which began at 11 a.m. in front of Edgewood United Church.
LAAN Board President Robert Mathis explained the importance of large turnouts at annual events such as this.
“This is really an opportunity for the community to come out and support all the great work that the Lansing Area AIDS Network does,” Mathis said.
Ligia Romaro is a care program manager with LAAN. She explained that although COVID put many businesses in tough positions, LAAN persevered without the funds of their annual AIDS walk.
“We were very lucky that even through COVID our team managed to stay on board to help the clients. While everybody was shutting down and working from home, a lot of our team was on the grounds taking care of clients,” Romaro said.
Prior to the walk, LAAN invited vendors and community resources from the Greater Lansing area to attend the event and support their cause.
Some booths were sources of health information, such as Lansing Syringe Access, the Salus Center and Nutrition Education. Other vendors sold products like desserts and dog treats, and one booth offered free massages from licensed masseurs.
Romaro’s daughter, Alexandra Frost, attended the event as a vendor and sold her custom-made cups to attendees. This was her first time working with LAAN through her business called Frostfram Creations. Frost said there are many benefits to the organization which aren’t recognized much by the public.
“AIDS might not be present anymore, but HIV definitely is,” Frost said.
The Michigan State University Extension for Nutrition Education also attended the event for the first time this year. Curtina Mysliwiec, representing the group, discussed the positive impact the event offers to the community.
“It’s just an opportunity to help people be healthier and have a better lifestyle,” Mysliwiec said.
LAAN also offered free testing and vaccines to those attending the walk. During the event, four HIV tests, 20 flu vaccines and 43 COVID vaccines were provided to attendees.
In total, the walk raised $8,823.62 for LAAN. Executive Director Kristina Schmidgall said the money will be used to support LAAN’s client assistance programs such as food, transportation, insurance assistance, mental health, smoking reduction and housing.