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They Walk to Fight a Killer

Health: AIDS walk at UC Irvine draws more than 10,000 and raises nearly $711,000.

June 03, 2002|DAVE McKIBBEN

For the third year in a row, Rancho Alamitos High School, home to just 1,600 students, raised more money than any other school in the 16th AIDS Walk Orange County.

"We consider this a very good project," said Julie Le of Rancho Alamitos, who was joined on Sunday's walk at UC Irvine by more than 50 of her classmates. "This issue is something we take very seriously."

AIDS has killed more than 3,100 people in Orange County, according to health department figures.

Rancho Alamitos raised more than $4,700 from the AIDS walk, and from selling strawberry shortcake last month at a swap meet at the Orange County Fairgrounds. Walk organizers estimate that more than 10,000 participants raised nearly $711,000 for AIDS prevention and support services by gathering pledges and walking 5K and 10K routes around UC Irvine.

Since it began in 1987, the event has raised more than $6 million for agencies that provide food, housing, medical, education and other services to those affected by AIDS. Walk organizers estimate that about 10,000 people are infected with HIV in Orange County.

Pearl Jemison-Smith, co-chairwoman of the walk, said the goal this year is to alert young people to the dangers of HIV and AIDS. She said that nationally, two young people become infected with HIV every hour.

The prevention message is not getting out to young people, Jemison-Smith said, and fund-raising has been especially difficult this year.

"A lot of people gave to the 9/11 fund, and the economy is down," she said. "And others are saying, 'I'm tired of AIDS. Let's go on to another disease now.'"

"Every year, the crowds grow," said Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), who participated in her sixth AIDS walk. "People are beginning to realize that AIDS affects all of us, not just gays." Sanchez said families are the newest affected group.

"We're finding that people who are in monogamous relationships are coming in contact with AIDS," she said. "Husbands are bringing home this dreaded disease to their wives. We need to educate our communities more about the dangers."

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