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Black Tie Bingo: Interview with LLAA's David Richart
Black Tie Bingo: Interview with LLAA's David Richart
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

With over 300 in attendance, last Saturday found the Downtown Grand Hyatt Ballroom to be the site of Lifelong AIDS Alliance's (LLAA) 5th Annual Black Tie Bingo hosted by Sylvia O'Stayformore and featuring noted author and activist Reichen Lehmkuhl. "It was an absolute success," said LLAA's Executive Director David Richart. "It's just what we were hoping for."

The central highpoint of the evening wasn't all the fancy gowns, the extravagant prizes, the whimsical drag icon or the Amazing Race prize-winner, but instead the appearance of a LLAA client, referred to simply as "Stephanie." Giving an emotional address with her 18-year-old daughter by her side, attendees were visibly moved to tears during her speech. "Chicken Soup Brigade gives me a chance to take a breath and know we will not go hungry because we cannot afford the basic food we need to survive," she exclaimed. "I thank God every day that this service is here and that they have given me the ability to feed my child and myself and that I do not have to make the choice to not eat so that there is enough for her to eat. They made me feel so welcome I became a volunteer."

While not ready to disclose just how much money was raised during the evening, Richart still sounded quite happy. "We think we were able to make out goals," he stated. "What I can tell you is that we [raised] $50,000 during our 'Feed the Need' portion of the night. That part of the evening we know was extremely successful and that has us very excited."

Even still, the executive director wasn't about to step back and wax poetic about the dire financial situation staring down nonprofits both locally and nationally. At the same time, he also wasn't about to go negative, either. "Most people tend to assume that individual donations are down [because] of the economy," said Richart. "The exact opposite is true. [While] corporate donation are indeed down, in 2008 almost all of our major donors gave at the same level, if not higher, than they did in 2007. We feel particularly lucky in that respect."

Not that the stalwart community organization hasn't had to make some tough decisions. "We've had to cut back," he admits candidly. "We've had to [engage] in furloughs and different things because of some of our contracts going away, because of funding cuts from the [State] and Federal governments. Also, the [NW AIDS] Walk was down a little bit last year, and that combination has forced us to take measures like closing the office for 10 days between now and the end of our fiscal year and to freeze all staff positions. We've definitely felt the impact."

"At the same time, right now our clients need us more. They are using our services more. Which then costs us more, which conversely affects our budget and makes things more [difficult]. There's sort of a boomerang effect, if that makes sense."

Although the situation could look bleak to most, Richart refuses to look at the dark side. "We're hoping we're going to get some of the stimulus money," he admits candidly. "Vice President Biden just announced that $20 million has been written in just for food banks, and we're hopeful we'll be able to get a piece of that. But, with the government, it takes time, so I can't really speak to the [particulars] on that as of yet. The [money] has to make its way through the system first, so we have to wait."

"But we're hopeful. We're hopeful we're going to get some of that. It's going to take some time, and it can seem kind of elongated and convoluted, but until then we're going to keep making the choices we think we need to make to make sure our clients continue getting served."

With all this chaos and uncertainty, what is it that keeps Richart so upbeat? "The reason I can do this every day is because of people like Stephanie," he answered. "I know what [her] story does for people and I know how [they] connect with it. She is the example that gets me out of bed every day."

"You know what's really cool?" asks Richart. "At the end of the night, we were doing the [final] bingo and she won it! She won a roundtrip vacation to New York for her daughter. People went just crazy for her! It was a stunning moment. It's the kind of moment those in attendance will never forget."

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