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Heroic fundraiser still supports Mission work

Sun 19 Mar 2006 In: Events

Over the last nine years, the annual Heroic Gardens event has raised over $315,000 for Auckland AIDS hospice Herne Bay House, but with the closure of the Auckland City Mission-owned facility last year, questions were raised over where the proceeds from this year's event should go. The Mission has replaced Herne Bay House, reported to have been sold for around $3.4 million, with a community-based HIV support service employing a three-person team: a psychologist, a registered nurse, and a social worker with HIV/AIDS experience. This year's Heroic Gardens event has raised around $58,000. Spokesperson Geoffrey Marshall says an alternative recipient was considered "very briefly" in the planning stages, but the idea was dismissed quickly as plans for this year's event had already been set in motion before the closure of Herne Bay House. "We discussed the closure very extensively with the Mission, because we were very concerned," he says. "We said as long as they continued to support the HIV/AIDS community in some way, we were quite happy with that, it didn't have to be in the form of a physical house." The annual Heroic Gardens donations, made out directly to the Auckland City Mission, were an acknowledgement that the gay community had a stake in the continuing existence of Herne Bay House. "It was an encouragement for them to keep on running it," Marshall says. "But we were giving them far less than they were spending on it." The replacement HIV/AIDS service is much cheaper to run, says Alexis Sawyers, the Mission's Team Leader for Fundraising. The money donated by Heroic Gardens this year amounts to over one fifth of the annual running costs. "It's a significant amount of funding for that service," she says. "By not having a physical building, we've reduced the cost certainly." Most of the donated money will go towards staff salaries, which are the largest expense. Even though all donations are made out to the Auckland City Mission, Sawyers assures that donations are only used for the work that donors specify. All the money raised in previous years for Herne Bay House was earmarked for the house, and nowhere else. "A lot of people will provide support for a specific service, so all of our budgets are set based on a service," she explains. "We've got overall costs, but if anyone comes to us, for example, and says 'I only want that donation to go towards food', it would only go to our food service. It wouldn't go into our general fund." With 2005 going on record as the worst ever year for new HIV infections among gay men in the history of the epidemic in New Zealand, Sawyers says the Mission is expecting increased demand for their support service, and believes the new programme is better equipped to deal with the modern epidemic. "Herne Bay House was a very specialised service, as opposed to providing community support," she says. "Given that it's not residential based, we're expecting wider use of this service." So, what of the future of Heroic Gardens' relationship with the Auckland City Mission? Geoffrey Marshall will only be acting in a consultancy role next year, so doesn't know what decisions next year's committee will make regarding where the proceeds will go. He does say, however, that the Mission's continuing financial support for the lion's share of an HIV/AIDS service shows their commitment to the cause. "Because the service is a still young one, the effectiveness of it will be judged by the users, and only time will really tell that," he says. Chris Banks - 19th March 2006    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Sunday, 19th March 2006 - 12:00pm

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