Over 300 participants at the Pacific Pride Foundation’s 15th Annual Santa Barbara County AIDS Walk Saturday morning used their hearts and soles to help raise thousands of dollars for a good cause.

Participants in the six-mile Heart and Sole AIDS Walk along Leadbetter Beach raised a record $120,000 for the Pacific Pride Foundation – a Santa Barbara-based organization that coordinates HIV/AIDS education and advocacy programs – said Lauren Wyeth, interim executive director of the event. The 9 a.m. event, which has raised over $1.6 million for the foundation in the past 14 years, offered free food and a performance by local band Area 51.

Many of the event’s participants raised money by collecting pledges and making personal donations, Wyeth said. She said all the money raised at the walk will go directly to the Pacific Pride Foundation, helping fund the educational programs about sex and HIV/AIDS it provides to local schools and groups, as well as counseling, housing and food services to people living with the disease.

Jessie Nieblas, a second-year history and women’s studies major and resident assistant at San Nicolas Residence Hall, said a group of approximately 15-20 people from the residence hall walked at the event, collecting over $250 in pledges. Nieblas said she thinks the event was so successful because so many people feel strongly about ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“Everyone is here for a reason,” Nieblas said. “Everyone has some sort of passion about the cause.”

Gayle Gaviola, a sophomore communication major and community service chair for Chi Delta Theta – an Asian-American interest sorority – said her group raised $300 to donate at the event. She said she thinks the AIDS walk is a good way to do something positive while enjoying a sunny day at the beach.

“It’s a great healthy way to contribute to a good cause and have fun with everyone,” Gaviola said.

At the walk, a variety of booths manned by local businesses and organizations handed out information about the Pacific Pride Foundation, ways to get involved with the fight against HIV/AIDS, and living with the disease.

According to the Pacific Pride Foundation’s website, the organization is Santa Barbara County’s main agency specializing in HIV/AIDS education and it is the largest provider of advocacy and aid services to people living with HIV/AIDS between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Bob Blackford, a local resident who has AIDS, set up a booth taking donations for Bridges of Hope, a group founded by the Community Covenant Church in Goleta that helps sponsor people affected by the disease. Blackford said this is his sixth time attending the event, and he said he is always amazed at the variety of people that show up.

Blackford said he has been traveling in Africa for the past three years and he said he thinks it is important for local residents to learn about how much damage the HIV/AIDS epidemic is causing around the world.

“I would have been dead 10 years ago if it weren’t for the drugs,” Blackford said. “Not everyone is so lucky. We simply can’t ignore this gigantic epidemic that is wiping out entire villages. Whole infrastructures are economically damaged by this disease.”