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PWACU to Hold Charity Fashion Show

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On July 19, Utah’s models will strut their stuff at the Depot’s Grand Hall, showing off the latest, hottest fashions and raising money for a good cause: helping Utahns living with HIV/AIDS. 


Just in time for its 20th anniversary the People with AIDS Coalition of Utah will once again hold an elaborate charity fashion show – complete with hula dancers, prize raffles and games – to raise money for their support and educational service programs.

“We haven’t done an event fundraiser like this since 2003,” said Toni Johnson, the organization’s director. “I got sick so we had to cancel the show we usually did.” In place of events like the fashion show, Johnson said the organization switched to its annual Christmas poinsettia fundraiser.

The show fell together, Johnson said, when Gus Garcia of Brass Ring Productions, a local company specializing in such things as set construction, emceeing and videography for a variety of events. According to Johnson, Garcia, who will emcee the show, stepped up when a previous event planner fell through.

Local and national retailers like Black Chandelier, Fleur de Lis, JMR, Lolabella, Olive Couture and Urban Outfitters will donate fashions for the evening, and in-kind sponsor Sanctuary Day Spa has donated hair styling and make up services for the models, who will walk an unusual runway.

“I was thinking a stage, but it’s going to be a stage less fashion show,” said Johnson. “The models are going to run the floor between the tables [at the Depot]. It’s completely different from anything anyone has done before.”

The evening will also include Hula dancers at sunset, a cash bar and a “wheel of fortune” where participants can win PWACU magnets and buttons for $1 per spin. Local gay-friendly color guard the Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps Salt Lake City will also administer an a silent auction and raffle with prizes like Elizabeth Taylor perfume packages, Elton John CDs, jewelry, clothing and “a big basket of lube.”

While the show is in keeping with PWACU’s tradition of raising money to help locals with HIV/AIDS, Johnson said it also signals the start of “a new era” for the organization.

“We’re starting an advocacy program to help get funding [for PWAs] from the state of Utah,” said Johnson. The money is needed, she added, because the money from the federal Ryan White Care Program, which subsidize treatment for low-income people with HIV/AIDS, is “not as much as we need” in Utah. In starting this program, Johnson said she is taking over the work of her cousin, long time HIV/AIDS activist Stuart Merrill, who recently moved out of state.

Although the group’s short term goal is one-time funding for the coming year, Johnson said: “Ideally, we would like to pass bill getting funding for the state health department,” that would allocate funding for a longer period of time. Although the advocacy program is still in its early stages, Johnson added that PWACU is looking for volunteers of all sexual orientations and gender identities to help with the campaign.

To help make the organization self-sufficient, PWACU also plans on starting a thrift store. Johnson said the group is still securing funding from private donors, but that the shop will open its doors soon.

“It will  allow people in the community to have other alternatives from other thrift stores that are in town  – a  thrift store that matches their ideology,” she said.

The store is projected to open in the South Salt Lake area and PWACU will look for a store manager and volunteers shortly.

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