This morning, on the streets in and around Central Park, 45,000 people participated in 23rd Annual AIDS Walk New York. Despite the rain that drenched some of the walkers, today’s event was the largest and most successful ever, raising $7,058,497 in donations.
Due to the size of the crowd, this was also the busiest year ever for volunteers, who sometimes struggled to keep up with the size and passion of the crowd. This year I signed on to help set up a checkpoint at 83rd Street (marking the 3/4 point) and distribute snacks and drinks to the walkers.
An executive from one of the companies that donated food joined us, bringing along his son and some of his staff. Since some of the snack items they supplied have mascots, he also brought their costumes along. When the person who was supposed to portray one of the mascots didn’t show, the exec’s son cheerfully donned the much-too-big costume and became the Quaker Oats Man (never mind that all the walkers thought he was supposed to be “the Sam Adams beer dude”).
Before long, the walkers began to descend upon us and the volunteers’ activity kicked into high gear. Walkers were greeted and cheered on (you’re almost there!), truckloads of refreshments flew, lines outside the port-a-potties grew, and those assigned to the checkpoint didn’t cease working at top speed until the final bag of chips was gone and the last cup of water gulped.
Since its inception, AIDS Walk New York has raised a total of over $100 million for dozens of HIV/AIDS organizations. Despite all that money and all those footsteps, the epidemic continues to rage around the world. Every penny brings us a bit closer to finding a cure. Today was the 23rd annual walk; I hope this one will be the last.