Lew Aldridge has been a champion of AIDS Services of Austin and the community affected by HIV in raising both awareness and critical funds in Austin, Texas. Lew has been a critical leader and founder of the Octopus Club along with Linda McCarley, Tamara Chauncey, and Flint Sparks or the "Gang of Four" as they call themselves. The Octopus Club has raised over 2.5 million dollars for the Paul Kirby Emergency Fund through annual events and parties since 1989.
The Paul Kirby Fund is named after HIV/AIDS support trailblazer and founding board member of ASA, Paul Kirby, who understood the importance of financial support for persons who were positive. Because of the amazing growth of the Octopus Club, it is the only entity that supports this Fund that supports so many. It has allowed ASA to do more with less by directing other financial support to things such as the Jack Sansing Dental Clinic, Helping Hands Food Bank, direct client support services, the Capital Area AIDS Legal Project, and prevention services such as testing, counseling, outreach, and education.
Numerous eye glasses, rent/utility payments, medications, insurance assistance, and child care payments later, the Octopus Club and our clients are thriving. Anyone who has enjoyed an Octopus Club party knows they have Great Parties for a Great Cause.
Recently, Lew announced he will be passing the leadership torch of Octopus club. Here is a letter from Lew-
"Many of you remember all to well how grim the situation with AIDS was in 1989 when we started the Octopus Club. Our dear friends, our lovers, our co-workers, our brothers or sisters or children or parents would suddenly become ill and steadily and rapidly descend into a hell of suffering that would end, often in just a few months, with their deaths. The absolute unimaginable was happening. The HIV virus had been identified and doctors and researchers were beginning to understand how it worked, but there was no cure or treatment anywhere in sight. The fear of the unknown and the ugliness of homophobia combined to leave many of the ill alone and without family or any other of the usual networks of support. Many people with AIDS needed help with the most basic needs: shelter, food, medications.
The need seemed overwhelming, but we were not overwhelmed. We all knew that there were numberless people who wanted to help. We decided we would create a link between the love in the hearts of those who wanted to help and the neighbors with AIDS who had nowhere to turn for the help they needed. And that link is what Octopus Club has always been. AIDS Services of Austin created the Paul Kirby AIDS Emergency Assistance Fund to manage and distribute the funds where needed and Octopus Club started throwing parties and events to raise the funds.
The first year we raised $23,151. Twenty-nine years of miracles small and large followed. Counting the $59,860.45 for the fund from ArtErotica 2018 on May 12th, Octopus Club parties have sent $2,591,932.78 into the Paul Kirby Fund. Every penny has gone directly to a neighbor in need when they needed a helping hand and needed to know they were not alone in their struggle. As best as I can figure there were somewhere around 500 parties most with multiple hosts and who knows how many guests who donated the money - many thousands. Each of those people demonstrating with their time, energy, creativity, money, generosity that there was plenty of love to take on HIV/AIDS.
Being a part of this miracle has been the deepest reward and the highest honor of my life.
Wanted to let you each know that after 29 years I am stepping down from leadership of Octopus Club. I hope that some of you may want to continue some of the parties and/or the structure of Octopus Club. I am happy to continue to support any parties or events with sponsorships and volunteering and I’m eager to turn over any of the resources of the Octopus Club to folks to continue to raise these funds. But it’s time for me to be an Indian and let others be Chiefs.
I have very special thanks to Dara Gray, Tamara Chauncey, Flint Sparks, Linda Olive Anderson McCarley, and Susan Ghertner who were the very first Octopi in 1989 and who believed that miracles can happen. Also, I'm sending many thanks to the HOs, the Head Octopi who have led us over the past 29 years. Without the creativity, energy, and work of these leaders, nothing would have happened. And a loving thank you to everyone of you who imagined, led, volunteered, attended, and filled the jar with dollars over and over again.
The Paul Kirby Fund at AIDS Services of Austin is still the only source of direct financial assistance for people in Austin living with HIV/AIDS and these folks will continue to need our help. Now the Fund helps people get back on their feet when they get knocked down by the demands of living with HIV and people who are staying alive and thriving and living long and productive lives. I hope we can all continue to work with AIDS Services of Austin to keep it active.
ASA is grateful for the incredible support, energy, and momentum Lew created through the Octopus Club to improve the health and well-being of our clients and community. His legacy will continue to live on and inspire the continued work of AIDS Services of Austin.
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