WAPPINGERS FALLS -
As Caroline Petro signed a commemorative red ribbon on Saturday morning just outside of Macy’s in the Poughkeepsie Galleria, she was reminded of the personal, haunting nature of AIDS. Still, she wants more people to know about the seriousness of the disease.
"I’m here today to support my mom, who died of AIDS," said Petro, who is a resident of Marlboro, NY. "Today is so important because AIDS is something that is kept a secret, and people don’t talk about it, so I want to try to make others aware by going to as many events as I can."
Because Saturday marked the 31st World AIDS Day, Petro had an assortment of outings available. She chose the one sponsored by ARCS, featuring not only the red ribbon board and signature poster supporting the day’s cause, but also a "Kiss AIDS Away" segment, allowing guests to press their lips on a piece of paper and post it alongside the ribbons on the board. Those lip imprints were highlighted by lipstick samples provided by the event’s partner, MAC Cosmetics’ Viva Glam Product Line, whose sales monies were donated to ARCS.
A non-profit agency with eight offices in seven counties in the Hudson Valley, ARCS has been promoting a better quality of life for those diagnosed with AIDS for the past 25 years. The group’s activities have recently been expanded help people deal with not only AIDS, but other medical issues connected to AIDS, such as hypertension and even blood disease.
"Our purpose today is to do something out in the public, reminding people that AIDS is still here," said Jay Dewey, Director of Public Relations for ARCS. "Many of our clients are not just dealing with HIV, but homelessness, poverty, drugs and other issues, so we provide any other kind of support they might need to help cope."
And that assistance is in high demand. Although the AIDS epidemic has seen a decline in those it has afflicted, the Hudson Valley Region remains a hotbed for its presence. The numbers tell a riveting tale - as of 2010, there were 6,200 people living with HIV/AIDS here. In fact, the Hudson Valley has the highest rate of HIV infection in New York State outside of New York City.
The many misconceptions that abound regarding the disease only add to the complexity of solving the AIDS puzzle. HIV is not a "gay disease", as it is commonly believed. Furthermore, it cannot be contracted from saliva, kissing, hugging, or by sharing utensils or a rest room with someone who has HIV. The disease does not discriminate, striking the rich as well as the poor, whites as well as blacks, and the elderly as well as the young.
Qiana Robb, Petro’s sister-in-law, also applied her signature to one of the many red ribbons. Her stake was a very personal one as well; her uncle’s life was claimed by AIDS. Robb’s presence at Saturday’s mall event was twofold; both to remember her relatives - mother-in-law, too - as well as draw more attention to the facts connected to the disease.
"People need to really know how AIDS is transmitted, not just by a touch, but in many other ways," said Robb as she handed her ribbon over. "It really needs to be talked about much more."