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Oakland AIDS Ministry Provides For Patients In Need

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) While African-Americans make up 12% of Alameda County's population, they represent about half its HIV cases. But this week's Jefferson Award winner has made it her mission to bring that number down.

Gloria Crowell has led the AIDS ministry at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland since 1994. It's a place where people living with HIV and AIDS can find a free lunch, nutrition counseling, and companionship.

Alan Markert, HIV positive for 20 years, felt so welcome, he volunteered.

"That's the way it is with everybody here," he explained. "We don't think about the illness. We're just normal people."

The federally-funded AIDS Ministry helps more than 1200 people a year, from the newly-diagnosed to those who've lived with HIV or AIDS for years. Many are African American, who tend not to get HIV tested until they're very sick.

"Most people of color believe this is a gay white man's disease when we know very differently," Gloria Crowell said.

Crowell has worked on the front lines in the fight against HIV and AIDS in Alameda County for nearly 30 years. The Oakland native helped start the city's first AIDS residential care program in 1993, before protease inhibitor drugs allowed patients to live longer. She helped launch the city's AIDS Walk in 2004.

And she led volunteers to Zimbabwe every year for a decade, bringing medicine to HIV and AIDS patients at an orphanage. One of those trips became an international incident seven years ago. She and her team were jailed in Zimbabwe for a few days, charged with operating a clinic without a license. They were cleared, and she and the group went back the next year.

Dietitian Kathy Gehlken praises Crowell's outreach and prevention work on the local, state and federal levels.

"She deeply cares about this community so she's willing to do whatever it takes to make sure people get what they need to be well," said Gehlken.

For Crowell, it's simple:

"If we were Jesus, we would really welcome everybody into our doors and make sure all of the sick got the help that they needed," she said.

So for decades of ministry to people with HIV and AIDS, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Gloria Crowell.

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