The last week of November slipped by without any marches or rallies to raise awareness about AIDS in Anne Arundel County.
But the county's AIDS Coalition is determined to avoid letting National AIDS Awareness Week lapse unnoticed next year. Concerned by the growing numbers of Anne Arundel residents infected with HIV, the AIDS virus, the ad-hoc coalition plans to conduct a vigil and sponsor a prevention workshop next November.
Members of the coalition's steering committee met Wednesday afternoon to discuss stepping up efforts to help about 50 known AIDS patients in the county. Half of the 107 people diagnosed since the mid-1980s have died, said Suzanne Ochs, HIV case manager with the county health department.
The coalition hopes to launch its much-awaited buddy program in February to offer area AIDS patients companionship and care. Steering committee members also discussed starting a sister program to provide hot meals for those who become too weak to handle simple tasks like grocery shopping.
"At the very least, there would be another connection so they (AIDS victims) are not left all alone," said Sherry Patton, a counselor with the health department's Open Door drug rehabilitation program.
Patton suggested turning to Moveable Feast, a non-profit, Baltimore-based program that delivers gourmet lunches and dinners twice a week to homebound AIDS patients. The only drawback, she said, is the distance. Coalition members would have to drive to Liberty Road in Baltimore County to pick up meals cooked by Moveable Feast.
The steering committee plans to compare the program with Meals On Wheels, which provides hot dinners to the elderly and disabled, before choosing one.
When the coalition first announced plans to start its buddy system in September, more than 20 volunteers signed up, Ochs said. But a scheduling snafu forced the coalition to postpone training the volunteers through the Health Education Resource Organization until early February.
"We've had a lot of interest," said Ochs, who hopes to enlist more volunteers before the training session scheduled for the first three days of February.
HERO has run a buddy program in Baltimore for several years now.
Strapped by the demand for services in the city, the non-profit, AIDS advocacy group only reaches a few people in the surrounding counties, said Andrew A. Barasda Jr., executive director of HERO.
"We're really glad that Anne Arundel County wants to do their own training because a lot of our buddies end up having to drive long distances," he said. "We hope it will catch on in Howard, Harford and Carroll. A lot of people in the outlying counties need help, and there's only so much we can do alone."
Ochs said she knows at least 15 AIDS patients who could use a buddy.
Because the fatal syndrome cripples the immune system, they often become too sick to work, shop, or clean. They also usually lose drastic amounts of weight because the disease causes nausea, vomiting and related side effects.
Although she supported plans to start delivering hot meals to AIDS patients, Ochs pointed out that many simply cannot force themselves to eat.
"People who are very wealthy still waste away," she said. "They may have a delectable, gourmet meal in front of them but they just can't eat."
She agreed that the program would be an asset, after Patton argued that the simple act of bringing a meal would help cheer up lonely and isolated AIDS victims.