FEEDING THE NEEDY
Providing aid for HIV services, hunger programs and support for homeless and disenfranchised youth
Barbara Richmond and Peggy Ermet have been life-long friends. In fact their mothers were friends before they were born. Their lives wound in and out of each others as they grew up, got married, moved away, moved back and so on. Both mothers have suffered the hardest ordeal a mother can imagine in losing their only sons to AIDS. Barbara thought her world would end when her son John died.Since Barbara’s divorce, and her married daughter’s move down the Peninsula to raise her family, John had been the light and major focus of her life. John and his friends had always included her in their lives, often dropping by for impromptu dinners and visits, to just “hang out,” or to take her out to various events. There were many such events because John was very active in the San Francisco entertainment community designing and building sets and costumes for many venues. He had also used his magic touch in helping Barbara decorate her own home. Barbara often described their relationship as not just mother and son but as soul mates. When John was diagnosed with AIDS Barbara was astounded. How could this terrible disease touch her wonderful, beautiful son. His courage, however, in living with the disease, gave her pride. He was determined to live his life as normally as possible. And, toward the end, when she looked at John and saw the way the disease had transformed her once handsome boy into a shadow of his former self, covered with KS lesions, and watched him suffer a long,agonizing death, it was his courage that kept her going.
After John’s death, Barbara was severely depressed. When some of John’s friends, who were local entertainers, came by to share her grief, she looked at them and asked, “So what are you going to do for your friend John?” Their answer was to put on an AIDS benefit, in John’s honor, to benefit Visiting Nurses and Hospice of San Francisco, the agency that helped Barbara care for John during those dark days. That event, which included many of San Francisco’s most prominent entertainers and held at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, helped Barbara pull out of her depression. And the love and care shown by Barbara and John’s friends gave her hope. One of these caring friends was her current roommate and life-long friend, Peggy Ermet. A few years later, when Peggy’s own son, Doug, who had also been HIV positive for quite a few years, began to show more serious symptoms, Barbara was the one who had to play the role of comforter. It was painful to see her best friend, who had been her rock, suffer as she had as Doug’s health slipped away.Although Doug’s death was not as painful as John’s, it was no less difficult for the mothers to bear. Like John, Doug was Peggy’s only son and had become the center of Peggy’s life after her husband passed away some years before. But in death, Peggy, too, took heart in seeing how well loved her son had been, and how deeply he had touched so many other people’s lives.As vice president of Employee Communications at Charles Schwab & Co., Doug’s life path had taken a different direction than John’s, but they crossed often as Doug loved the local cabaret and entertainment scene and admired the talent that abounded in the Bay Area. He could frequently be found wherever that talent emerged. He also had tremendous respect and admiration for John’s behind-the-scenes talents. An accomplished Emmy nominated video producer and writer, Doug considered himself a “behind-the-scenes” kind of guy as well.These two mothers then decided to commit the remainder of their lives to fighting this epidemic,and have enlisted many of their and their son’s friends to help in this endeavor. For this purpose, The Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation was created who’s mission is to produce quality entertainment events with the proceeds to benefit local AIDS organizations. The first of these events, a musical variety show titled "Help is on the Way: San Francisco Cares!," was held on May 15, 1995 at The Palace of Fine Arts Theater in San Francisco, and was a complete sell out. Most subsequent years were also sell-outs and featured stars from Broadway, film and television as well as San Francisco’s own brightest stars.Barbara and Peggy's spirits continue to be an inspirational and driving force for REAF as we continue to work towards a world without AIDS.
When HIV+ newborns and children were infected with HIV back in the 1980s and whose mothers were too ill to care for them, they were left to die in our hospitals. Many extended family members and foster parents wouldn't bring these little ones home for fear of spreading the infection to their families. Some couldn't/wouldn't do it because back then HIV was a death sentence, and they couldn't cope. Appalled and knowing HIV didn't spread through family type contact, I became a foster parent especially for infants with HIV. It broke my heart thinking about babies laying there and dying without love and without anyone fighting for them. Soon after I moved up to the Russian River, I registered with foster care. The foster care application asked what kind of child I wanted to foster, and I said infants with HIV. One month later Dillon was born prematurely and to a woman who had HIV and didn't know it. He was very sick when born, and because his birth mother was living a marginal life on the streets and using drugs and alcohol, Child Protective Services placed him in foster care. His foster care worker saw my application and placed him with me. With much excitement I went to the hospital to meet him. Across the room was a little bassinet with someone stirring within it. I couldn't see him though, because there was a large placard blocking my view and warning to put on gloves before touching him. Annoyed at the sign obscuring him and sick because I was afraid no one had ever held him without gloves, I peeked over the placard with my heart in my throat. There gazing up at me was this perfect little boy with huge brown eyes. I was captured by them and fell in love instantaneously! When I picked him up, I promised him that no one ever again would treat him like he was just a disease and not a precious little guy. He's been loved ever since. And not just by me, but by many who meet him.
The Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation (REAF) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) Arts/Health organization dedicated to raising funds for AIDS services, hunger programs and programs for underserved youth in the Bay Area through the production of quality entertainment programs. REAF was founded by two mothers, Barbara Richmond and Peggy Ermet, who lost their only sons to AIDS as a way to honor their sons’ memories and help alleviate the suffering of all the other sons and daughters living with HIV and AIDS. REAF began as a wholly volunteer-run agency, partnering with a single agency to produce a fundraising event called "Help is on the Way: San Francisco Cares." Today, REAF is still relies on a mostly volunteer Board and staff. "Help is on the Way" has become one of the Bay Area’s largest annual benefit concert and galas and a major source of funding for many local AIDS, Food and Youth Services programs. REAF focuses not only on raising funds but also on creating public awareness that the AIDS epidemic is not yet over, that too many people rely on local food and nutrition programs as their only sources of food and that there are thousands of homeless and underserved youth who all need our help to live full, productive lives. REAF strives to create community alliances to support these agencies on multiple levels. Overall, beneficiary agencies that have partnered with REAF have reported increased overall giving levels, both financial and in-kind, through increased exposure to media, corporations and individual donors. Volunteerism to their agencies is also increased. REAF strives to build teamwork and cooperation among benefiting agencies through these annual partnerships.