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On the Importance of Mailing Checks

A colleague recently asked me what I do for a living. Not expecting the question, I gave a response that upon later reflection that evening, I felt inadequate. Essentially, I told him that I work at the intersection of philanthropy and public health. But that does not fully capture the scope and spirit of AIDS United’s or my activity.

Our organization seeks to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S. through strategic grantmaking, capacity building, and advocacy. As a program manager for the Syringe Access Fund, I help oversee grants for 70 community-based organizations (CBOs) across the country providing new syringes, collecting and disposing of used syringes, and connecting people who use drugs to supportive, medical and behavioral health services.

Zach Ford at the Users Union March in New Orleans in 2018. Photo by Nigel Brundson.

Part of my job involves mailing checks to these organizations. Recently, it’s been busy for me because, given the Syringe Access Fund’s two-year grant cycle, it is when I am either formalizing new grant agreements and awards or processing and mailing second payments.

I used to skip over such administrative details when telling people about my job. But this year, when I dropped off our latest grant checks in the mail, I reflected on where those envelopes were going, who would be receiving them, and how the money would be spent.

I thought about the life-saving naloxone that syringe-services programs would buy and distribute using this grant money. I thought about the thousands of sterile syringes that they would give out, helping prevent the spread of HIV, viral hepatitis, and other bloodborne infections. I thought about the salaries for peer- and secondary-exchange workers, the gas for mobile outreach units, the cotton balls, the cookers, and the sterile water. These checks would help provide financial incentives for community members to participate in testing events and town halls. They would also be used to provide warm meals to people at advocacy and community-education events.

Since joining AIDS United in 2016, I have had the honor of working alongside some of the most amazing people, doing the most amazing things. I have seen their work grow and lives change, in part because of the funding that AIDS United provides. And in an even smaller part because I mailed those checks.

Next time someone asks me what I do, I’ll have a better response.

Posted By: Zach Ford, Program Manager - Monday, April 29, 2019

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