BOERUM HILL — Members of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation are in the midst of gaining new understanding about the disease at the Nineteenth Annual International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C this week while their newest project is simultaneously taking root in Brooklyn.
Adam Ouderkirk, Regional Director of the foundation, said the most overarching theme of this year’s conference is that the end of the epidemic is possible with testing, information, and treatment.
“And that is exactly what we are doing in Brooklyn,” he said. “By opening Out of the Closet on Atlantic Avenue, we are working with other AIDS agencies in the area to provide those three tenets to the borough.”
In 1987 the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (then named AIDS Hospice Foundation) was founded by a group of men in Los Angeles who saw their friends dying of AIDS in the streets and in the hallways of hospitals.
They wanted to provide a place to die with dignity and soon sponsored California legislation that enabled the creation of the first licensed HIV/AIDS facility for the terminally ill in California.
Today the foundation is the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medication in the United States, according to their website. They also provide medicine and advocacy to people in 22 countries all over the worlds.
Out of the Closet is a thrift store that was created to benefit the foundation. Community members donate clothing and accessories to the store and for every item sold, 96 cents of every dollar benefits AIDS prevention and advocacy programs and services.
There are several branches in the San Francisco and Los Angeles area plus stores in Miami and Amsterdam. And by the end of the summer, Brooklyn will have its very own branch.
“We want the Brooklyn community to really to own the store and feel that its theirs,” said Ouderkirk. “There will be free and confidential HIV testing everyday in the store every plus a pharmacy that will provide HIV medications.”
According to Ouderkirk, Brooklyn is the borough with the third highest AIDS/HIV rates after Manhattan and the Bronx but has the least amount of services.
“We felt given the lack of services, Brooklyn was an important place for us to be,” he said. “And being near the Atlantic terminal, hopefully people from all over Brooklyn will have access to the store and its services.”
Over 200 miles away from the International AIDS conference, Carlos Cartayas is busily getting the new Out of the Closet store ready for business.
Cartayas, whose nickname is peanut, is setting up shop at 475 Atlantic Ave. and is currently accepting donations.
“We have had several boxes of clothes donated from L.A. but none so far from the Brooklyn,” said Cartayas, who is originally from New York, but who spent the last 17 years in Puerto Rico and Miami. “I don’t think people know we’re here yet.”
To donate call 718-614-5949 to drop off clothes any weekday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m at 475 Atlantic Ave.