san diego
Tree of Life ceremony held in Hillcrest
Remembers those who have died, urges awareness of HIV/AIDS
Published Thursday, 04-Dec-2003 in issue 832
The 12th annual Tree of Life Tree Lighting Ceremony was held in the Village Hillcrest Retail Center on Monday, Dec. 1, in local observance of World AIDS Day. The hour-long ceremony is held every year to remember those who have died, and reaffirm community efforts to educate, prevent and find a cure for the deadly disease.
An estimated 42 million people worldwide are infected with HIV/AIDS. According to a United Nations report, this year marked the highest rate of infection and death from AIDS — five million new infections were reported and three million people died; worldwide, five people die of AIDS every minute.
Sponsored by Mama’s Kitchen and Village Hillcrest, the tree lighting ceremony drew approximately 250 people. KUSI newscaster Kimberly Hunt emceed the event, which featured refreshments from The Abbey Café and holiday carols sung by the Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego. An AIDS quilt was also on display, with each panel honoring a friend of Mama’s Kitchen who has died from AIDS. Ornaments to hang on the tree are available for purchase every year, and can be personalized with a message honoring anyone who has been affected by HIV/AIDS.
County Supervisor Ron Roberts gave the keynote address. “I’m here tonight because [HIV/AIDS] is still an important issue,” he said. “It’s something that we are dealing with every day — there are families still going through this. This isn’t over and there is still a lot we can do.”
Roberts secures yearly grants from the county board of supervisors to assist Mama’s Kitchen, an organization that delivers 400,000 meals a year to clients with HIV/AIDS. He recently delivered Mama’s Kitchen’s 2.5 millionth meal.
“I’m here because Mama’s Kitchen is the premiere volunteer organization in San Diego,” Roberts said. “If you think of the incredible number of volunteer hours that makes this possible … tonight is very special — the turnout is great, and it means that nobody is alone, that we’re all acknowledging that this is a terrible, terrible disease. We’ve got people to help, and we’ve got to continue to get the word out there.”
Jason Weisz, a representative from Assemblymember Christine Kehoe’s office, George Biagi from Deputy Mayor Toni Atkins’ office and Robert Young from the office of Mayor Dick Murphy issued proclamations honoring the work of Mama’s Kitchen and declaring Dec. 1, 2003, to be “Tree of Life Day” in the City of San Diego.
This year’s ceremony also included a five-minute video about Mama’s Kitchen, created at no fee by Time Warner Cable and Groovy Like A Movie. Dan Ballister, vice president of Time Warner Cable, and Matt Midget, video executive producer and past board president, announced that the video soon will be broadcast to 44 cable channels in San Diego County to spread awareness and support for organizations like Mama’s Kitchen and for people with HIV/AIDS.
“This video is about, truly, the clients and their needs,” said Midget. “It was an awesome task for all of us involved to try to — with dignity and sensitivity — portray what it’s like to live with AIDS every day.… People are not just living with AIDS indefinitely. It is a struggle and it takes incredible courage by each of these people.… I think that we should celebrate them and their honesty tonight.”
The trees and ornaments will be on display in the Village Hillcrest Retail Center throughout December, which has been designated AIDS awareness month.

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