The problem of AIDS and HIV in our community can often be overlooked, ignored or just shied away from. But, it’s still here.
“It’s not getting any better and sadly, people think that it is getting better because [the virus] has become more manageable,” said Janis Griffin, coordinator of Simon’s Call.
The group, based in the Old Fourth Ward, is an outreach ministry of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church that helps people with HIV/AIDS and takes prevention initiatives.
"People have let their guards down because there are more effective medications out there. But, you build up immunity to the medications and after there are no more 'cocktails' to give you, your kind of luck runs out."
The program has been around for 10 years and works closely with the Edgewood Center, a housing facility for folks with HIV/AIDS located near the church in downtown Atlanta. The partnership began with Simon’s Call “adopting” the residents in the Edgewood program and providing them with home cooked brunches once a month.
However, over the years, other outreach ministries within Our Lady of Lourdes saw the positive work being done and became involved. Now, Simon’s Call provides the meals twice a year and various outreach ministries within the church provide the meals during the remaining 10 months.
But it also helps the residents with incidental financial issues —rent, bedding, towels and prescriptions — when need be.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays at the church, free meals are provided to those in need, and on Thursdays, folks can receive free AIDS testing. Awareness about the testing is purely through word of mouth.
“The homeless population that makes use of our Lourde’s Lunches are very good about spreading the word about what’s available,” Griffin said.
Simon’s Call also began providing support to an AIDS clinic in South Africa after its funding was cut by the government. It was a member of the church that came across the clinic during her travels and now Simon’s Call holds a yearly ice cream social fundraiser to raise money for its efforts.
They also participate in the Annual AIDS walk, have hosted World AIDS Day in the past and provide MARTA cards to Grady Memorial Hospital’s Infectious Disease Center.
And, on top of all the crucial work Simon’s Call does for people with HIV/AIDS, they still make time for education about the most important aspect of AIDS and HIV: Prevention. Numerous workshops have been held within the parish to teach teens about prevention.
“The saddest part is that [this disease] is 100 percent preventable,” Griffin said. “That’s the message we’re trying to get across.”
So, where did the name come from anyway?
It is taken from one of the 14 Stations of the Cross. In the biblical story, soldiers called upon St. Simon of Cyrene to help carry the Lord’s cross.
“I’m a similar way, we’re helping people with AIDS carry the burden that they bear,” Griffin said. “We’re here to weather the storm with them.”