The Daily Gamecock

Red Ribbon Masquerade aims to raise AIDS education awareness

Pools of red light, red sequins on masquerade masks, red ribbons — all deceptively festive for what they represented.

On Sunday evening, the AIDS Benefit Foundation of South Carolina hosted the first annual Red Ribbon Masquerade at Pearlz Upstairz Lounge to raise money and awareness for the ongoing fight against AIDS and HIV. Guests were encouraged to wear red and masquerade attire in support of the cause.

With over 15,000 men and women living with HIV, South Carolina has the sixth highest rate of HIV in the United States. Richland County is ranked first in South Carolina, according to event chair and Board of Directors member Alli Willingham.

“There’s sort of this myth that the war on AIDS and HIV has been won, and it’s absolutely not true,” Willingham said.

The Benefit Foundation aims to improve prevention and education by fundraising and distributing money to other organizations, such as Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services, the South Carolina Hispanic/Latino Health Coalition and South Carolina Pride.

“The number one thing we want to stress to people is to know your status,” Willingham said. She emphasized that testing is quick, pain-free and available at most healthcare offices.

The event held a silent auction as part of its fundraiser. Local businesses, including Vestique and Charleston Beer Week, contributed merchandise, and several local artists donated pieces.

The bartenders also worked free of charge and donated all of their tips to help raise money. Freeway Music Academy provided live music, with several instructors and students performing throughout the evening.

Every year in June, the Benefit Foundation hosts its main fundraiser, called “Dessert Finale,” at the Koger Center for the Arts. Volunteers also host theme events called “Dining with Friends” to help contribute to the cause.