Ever since COVID-19 hit the nation two years ago, our world was changed forever under a global pandemic. What people forget is the other pandemic that plagues our lives even to this day: HIV. That’s why NFAN is there for us.
Located in Riverside, the Northeast Florida AIDS Network (NFAN) is the largest AIDS service organization in the region. For over 30 years, they have worked to prevent the spread of HIV or treat and assist those who have it. The group serves about 1,500 people every year and offers a large number of services.
The main purpose of the organization is to make sure those who need their services have access to the medication and medical care they need. But before they can do that, sometimes they have to help people with bigger struggles. They provide food, rent help, trauma coping mechanisms, housing for the homeless, and more; all so they can get one step closer to providing the necessary medication.
“Nobody’s gonna take their medicine if they have all these other problems in their life so the first thing we do is tear down these barriers and then get down to the HIV.” said executive director Donna Fuchs.
NFAN is partnered with Down to Earth Farm, a local farm offering fresh veggies and farm-raised pork. Together, they help people grow their own food and teach them how to be self-sustaining. In line with that, they work with Feeding Northeast Jax to give people good, nutritious food. NFAN also works with UNF’s Food Fighters program, where the school takes surplus food and sends it over to the organization so they can get a hot meal for those who need it.
Every year, NFAN hosts Dining Out for Life, an event started by a Philadelphia network promoting awareness of HIV/AIDs. On April 28, restaurants around Jax will donate a percentage of their earnings to NFAN. This will be their 16th year partnering with establishments like Biscotti’s, Black Sheep, Hamburger Mary’s, and more. Meanwhile, volunteers will be there to spread awareness of NFAN and HIV.
“It surprises me in particular that every year I still meet face to face with one person in the community who approaches me and says ‘I thought HIV was over?’” said special programs manager Jessica Kloke.
Their greatest obstacle is the stigma. The stigma of having it, the stigma of taking medicine for it, and even the stigma of being associated with it as a whole. The matter gets even worse with legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill popping up. Most people give looks to those who support it or even have the red ribbon on them. It got to the point where the location needed to take the ribbon off just so people wouldn’t feel ashamed coming in. That’s why NFAN makes it a point their location is a 100% safe space.
COVID-19 hitting the world did not help things; in fact, it only made those with HIV even worse off. Both those with the disease and those working to stop the spread would now have to deal with two pandemics at the same time. As demotivating as that would sound, that gave even more reason for NFAN to stand tall and lend a helping hand to everyone. They need to help those who lost their jobs and can’t cope with the new way of life now more than ever.
The ultimate goal for NFAN, along with other AIDS networks, is to get to a point where they aren’t necessary. To make sure the spread lowers and those HIV-positive are treated properly so that the disease is no longer such a big problem. That being said, they still see and treat hundreds of people every year. Fuchs summarizes things in an apt way: “Unfortunately, business is booming.”