2021 Desert AIDS Walk brings city out of hibernation for crucial cause

Gary Mergelkamp wasn’t about to let a little plantar fasciitis prevent him from participating in the 2021 Desert AIDS Walk.

It was just the “walk” portion of the event that gave him trouble.

The fact he couldn’t navigate the event’s 3.5-mile walking route didn’t stop the Palm Desert resident from showing up early Saturday at Ruth Hardy Park to support his team from Spiritual Center of the Desert. The team has been participating in the event and contributing funds for the past five years. This year team members raised $2,000.

“It’s because this facility is so amazing,” Mergelkamp said when asked what brought him out to the park. “They do more to take care of both the positive and negative community than any other organization. And on top of it, they also do research.”

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Team members from Wabi Sabi Japan Living in Palm Springs hit the road at the start of the 2021 Desert AIDS Walk Saturday morning.

That facility is DAP Health, an advocacy-based health care organization that provides service to more than 10,000 individuals. Its staff and volunteers had no trouble waking the community from hibernation brought on during a nearly two-year battle with COVID-19. As of Saturday afternoon, organizers reported 1,836 donors helped raise more than $385,000 — 110 percent of the $350,000 goal.

“That’s a new record,” said DAP Health Chief Development and Strategy Officer Darrell Tucci before the walk, which has been held annually since 1989.

Crowds began arriving at the park an hour before the event’s 9 AM start. They were treated to performances from the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus, warm-ups from Urban Yoga and Ted Guice Fitness, and a “health and wellness village” packed with booths from local businesses and organizations. Along the route, walkers were treated to a performance by The Desert Winds Freedom Band.

The community was invited to sign a memory wall Saturday at Ruth Hardy Park, paying tribute to those lost during the battle with AIDS.

This year marks 40 years of HIV, with the first reported cases about what would become known as HIV and AIDS published in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“AIDS taught us a community response is the most effective response,” said DAP Health CEO David Brinkman before the event. “It taught us that we cannot turn our backs when communities are in need and in fear, that we must remember our humanity and the gift of giving back and be there to help. And as we have learned through our recent human rights and health equity movements, equality cannot be experienced by one until it is experienced by all.” 

To donate: Donations are still being accepted for the event and can be made online at this site.

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