“The extremely poor neighborhoods we serve are just a few miles from some of the richest zip codes in America,” says Jaya Canterbury-Counts, executive director of The River Fund, which not only feeds the struggling residents of communities an hour’s drive from West Palm Beach, but women and children living with HIV/AIDS in Africa and India, too.
Feeding an impoverished rural area near Florida’s Atlantic coast, the fund faces an uphill battle in a down economy. In the past year, Florida’s unemployment rate has jumped from eight percent to over 12 percent, well above the already dismal national average.
Consequently, Broadway Cares’ 2010 grant of $15,000 is feeding a broader spectrum of people than in years past. “Before, most of our clients were middle-aged and older men. Now we’re seeing young men, construction workers laid off when Florida’s real estate market collapsed and older women who lost their positions as domestic servants,” she says, adding, “Also, sadly, a lot of families and women with young children.”
From a small wood church (pictured at right), the all-volunteer organization runs both a pantry serving 250 people each month and a group meal program feeds about 800 people per month, says Canterbury-Counts.
Spanning the Globe
A long-time AIDS activist, The River Fund’s work in Africa grew out of a trip the organization made in the late 1990s to display the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. “It was the first time the African quilt panels were brought out,” recalls Jaya, who was joined by a number of other activists, including the quilt’s creator Cleve Jones.
A meeting with a Catholic priest who was taking care of orphans in Eastern Uganda led to a partnership to support AIDS orphans, widows, grandmothers and other vulnerable children in Uganda.
Women make up 59 percent of the HIV/AIDS population in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Almost every year since 2001, Jaya has traveled to Uganda to work with groups of women, training them in the basics of HIV/AIDS education, prevention and nutrition for women and children battling the disease. “This initial group of 35 women has trained more than 5,000 others, using grassroots networks for preventing AIDS,” says Jaya. “Women are now experts in their own destiny.” Several years ago, a young River Fund volunteer’s post Tsunami trip to India led to the fund’s support for Little Hearts Orphanage (left) in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, a region with a high rate of HIV infection.
“In India, children orphaned by AIDS have less chance of obtaining an education and getting access to healthcare,” Jaya says. “Children are often turned away from schools, clinics and even orphanages because they or their family members are HIV-positive.” Little Hearts is now home to 43 children, ages 3-14 and its numbers keep growing. “Currently, because the value of the dollar is so strong, we’re able to support this project for just $16,000 a year.”
Read more about The River Fund.