Droves of Santa Barbara residents and local activists “stepped up” Saturday morning to raise money for HIV/AIDS prevention and support programs.

The 17th Annual Heart and Sole AIDS Walk, hosted by the Pacific Pride Foundation, raised over $71,000, falling slightly below its $80,000 goal. PPF Director of Development Jerry Schwartz said all of the money raised will go directly to funding the foundation’s programs and services within the Santa Barbara community.

The event kicked off with an opening ceremony at Chase Palm Park on Cabrillo Blvd. in Santa Barbara, where guest speakers included Santa Barbara County Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf, Santa Barbara Councilwoman Helene Schneider and Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, who sounded the countdown for the 10-kilometer walk’s start. An estimated 500 participants turned out for the occasion, as well as over 200 volunteers, about 50 of whom were UCSB students from Phi Delta Theta and Alpha Kappa Delta Phi.

The walk, which took about 2 hours for the majority of participants to complete, was followed by a barbeque and awards ceremony. Team Unity, comprised of members from the Unity Church in Santa Barbara, received an award for raising the most money of any team, and the Carrillo family received an award for “Most Inspirational Walker.”

Irma Carrillo, whose brother Mike died of AIDS in 1993, said her family has come out for the walk every year since 1992 to show support for the Foundation and its work. According to Carrillo, after her brother was diagnosed with the virus he received significant counseling and support from PPF and was even assigned a volunteer “buddy” to serve as a friend and confidant to help him through his ordeal. Carrillo says her family now spends 10 months out of the year raising money for the walk by organizing yard sales and collecting donations.

“They did so much for Mike and now we want to help with donations to keep these programs running,” Carrillo said.

According to Schwartz, the need for donations has increased dramatically in the last five years, due in large part to the growing number of cases handled by the foundation. Currently, the foundation provides services for approximately 250 individuals with HIV/AIDS, as well as 250 people who are otherwise affected, all within the Santa Barbara community. The foundation estimates that there are 2,500 Santa Barbara County residents currently living with the virus, many of whom are unaware of their condition.

Schwartz said it was especially important to teach newly immigrated community members about the disease.

“What happens a lot of the time is young immigrant women come in for prenatal care, find out they have the virus and often their husbands do too,” Schwartz said. “We provide support for the whole family in such cases, which are becoming increasingly common.”

Beyond supporting those already living with and affected by HIV, Schwartz said another important service the foundation provides is a syringe exchange to decrease transmission of the virus among drug users. This program allows drug users to come in to an office at a designated time and exchange their old, dirty needles for clean ones. He notes that this is PPF’s most controversial program as many critics oppose what they perceive as sanction of illegal activities.

In addition to case management and operating its hotline, last year, the Pacific Pride Foundation collected 168,000 used syringes, distributed 26,500 bags of free groceries to affected persons, provided 425 hours of mental health counseling and performed nearly 1,400 free, anonymous HIV tests through its outreach program.

The Pacific Pride Foundation, a non-profit organization in operation for over 30 years, is the largest provider of HIV/AIDS services in the central coast. From its Santa Barbara and Santa Maria offices, the foundation offers a variety of services to assist those living with or affected by HIV, including case management, HIV testing and transmission prevention programs and counseling.