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The Palm Springs Nonprofit Organization Hosts an Oscar-Themed Party to Raise Funds and Awareness for Those Impacted by AIDS/HIV

Written By: Andrea Gomez
Photographed By: Melissa Bandli AAP-Food Samaritans

Watching the Oscars at TRIO Restaurant in Palm Springs means glamour and generosity come together for an important cause in the Coachella Valley. Authentic Oscar memorabilia, golden feather boas, sparkle-tinged suits and laughter are always present at the event. The “Hollywood’s Biggest Night” Oscar Party is held annually at TRIO in Palm Springs and benefits the nonprofit: AAP-Food Samaritans. We got to attend the ‘orange’ carpet event and spoke with several members of the organization who are supporting and impacting the lives of those with HIV/AIDS. 

Celebrities filled the TV screens as guests began to filter into the restaurant, and the scent of popcorn mingled in the air. Guests were given the celeb treatment as they walked down the orange carpet and got their pictures taken by the “paparazzi” with local drag queen and Palm Springs ambassador, Bella Da Ball. There was a cheerful and warm atmosphere. Guests hugged and mingled with one another while an MC sold Oscar ballots. 

“We like to have fun while we raise money,” said Director Vicky Sullivan. According to Sullivan, the nonprofit centers around “honor, responsibility, respect and charity.” AAP-Food Samaritans sets the bar by “mainly being an incredibly giving organization.”

“Traditionally, this weekend is slow for business,” explained Tony Marchese, owner of TRIO and president of AAP-Food Samaritans. “So we decided to host this party for charity. It fills the seats and gives back.” For its 10th year, the event shined brighter than ever. “The goal,” Marchese added, “is to bring part of the Palm Springs community into [our] world.” 

While fun events like these are key in helping AAP-Food Samaritans raise money for its operational budget, the nonprofit receives no state or federal funding. Instead, special events like these, along with private donations, foundation grants and local support, help with fundraising.

AAP-Food Samaritans began 28 years ago in 1991 as AIDS Assistance Program. Since then, the organization has expanded its reach and helps people with other severe illness such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and heart and liver disease. Their mission and goal is for clients to “continue to live their lives with dignity and self-respect.”

AAP-Food Samaritans knows that living with chronic illnesses presents a whole new set of challenges, and by helping with basic needs, they hope to help make those difficulties a little bit easier. Every client is vetted for income (less than $18,090) and residency to ensure eligibility. Some are also randomly drug-tested. Each month they distribute vouchers that can be exchanged for food and household items such as toiletries to their clients. Food vouchers are redeemable at local Stater Bros. Markets. Since its inception, the charity has been able to help change the lives of more than 2,300 people in the Coachella Valley.

Executive Director Mark Anton said, “It is important to give back and help raise funds for those in need.” Anton started as a board member, and has been involved with AAP-Food Samaritans for the last 16 years, eventually becoming the Executive Director in 2009. “Fundraising is a major part of the organization,” Anton explained. “Fundraising is really challenging because there are so many good causes and we are in a relatively small valley. We are asking the same people for money all the time. We are trying to educate young people about philanthropy and how important it is to continue because a lot of the folks that are major donors are getting about in years.”

Lively events, like those the AAP-Food Samaritans put on, help attract young, new faces. Most of the people at the “Hollywood’s Biggest Night” Oscars Party are those who aren’t quite familiar with the work the nonprofit achieves. “Our goal isn’t really about money, but to fill every seat we can,” Anton said. “But if…people [are] having a fun time while donating, it makes it a win-win for everybody.” Educating attendees plays a major role in these events to help retain potential new members.

The “Evening of the Stars” is another major event that helps attract new donors. Celebrities like Cyndi Lauper, Barry Manilow, the B-52’s and Gladys Knight have all attended in the past. “I just want people to have fun and enjoy themselves,” Anton remarked. As CEO, Anton said that his goals for the organization is to “just keep clients fed. We used to have a calling list when the economy was low but now we are in a position to take more in.”

AAP-Food Samaritans
1276 N Palm Canyon Dr, Ste 108
Palm Springs, CA 92262
760.325.8481