Annual Auction & Gala Will Support WNC Aids Project

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As our annual Raise Your Hand Auction & Gala approaches next month—now in its 29th year of raising funding for our HIV/AIDS prevention, advocacy, and client services—this is a great time to get the story on this year’s honorees. Check out this in-depth article by the Biltmore Beacon, highlighting the advocacy of this year’s Honorary Chair David Gantt and an interview with Signature Piece winner Linda Gritta:

A local nonprofit is pleased to announce news of its biggest fundraising event of the year, and invites the public to participate in the festivities on Sept.23.

Tickets are now on sale for WNCAP’s annual Raise Your Hand Auction & Gala, now in its 29th year. The Asheville Event Centre on Sweeten Creek Road will once again host the Western North Carolina AIDS Project event that begins with a cocktail reception and silent auction, followed with an elegant four-course dinner by Strada Italiano chef Anthony Cerrato.    

Asheville attorney David Gantt has been named as the honorary Chair of the 2017 Raise Your Hand Auction & Gala. Gantt served on the Buncombe County board of commissioners from 1996 through 2016, and as Chair since 2008. The Buncombe County seal bears the motto “People to Match Our Mountains.” A stalwart champion of civil rights, Gantt boldly embodies the values people of our community strive to attain.

“WNCAP has been there to help people in need from the beginning. Part of their mission has been to educate the public about HIV and AIDS, an aspect in which they have been impressively successful. Bigotry and hatred has no place in the arena of healthcare. I’m proud of my association with WNCAP and urge everyone to support them in every way they can,” Gantt said.

Linda Gritta was selected in a juried competition as this year’s featured artist. Constance Richards-Bora, director of the Grand Bohemian art gallery in Biltmore Village, said Gritta was one of the first artists they featured when her gallery opened. “Over the years we’ve gone on the journey with her as she developed her style and explored different themes, from her cityscapes to still-lifes and her very popular and kinetic dancers’ series. We were the first locally to show her abstracted landscape series, leading to her complete abstractions. The abstracts are strong and emotive and we couldn’t be more pleased that such a piece was chosen for the WNCAP signature piece. Linda is an incredibly giving member of the community,” she said.

Gritta is at her core an interpreter, it is the common denominator to most of what she does. She deciphers deaf patients’ sign language online for health care professionals, but most of her time is spent painting. “When I’m in my studio, I’m interpreting my own reality in what I see, feel and imagine.” Gritta first encountered WNCAP in 2005 when she happened to visit Grove Park Inn as they were setting up for the annual gala.

Gritta donated a large painting, and has been involved with their fundraising efforts ever since. “I saw that the money given to them makes a very direct impact through their outreach programs. There’s bravery in facing the realities each person with AIDS has to deal with, and fearlessly saying we can help by supplying people with whatever they need whether it’s education, food, and therapy or support groups. I think what I love most is that they use their resources very well,” Gritta said.

The AIDS epidemic began in June 1981 when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the discovery of unusual clusters of Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) in five homosexual men from Los Angeles. By August 1982, the disease was being referred to by its new CDC-coined name: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), but researchers may have traced its viral ancestor possibly going back as far as the 1870s in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa.

Scientists generally accept that the virulent and easily transmittable type of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, HIV-1, is closely related the simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs). Transmission to humans from chimpanzees and gorillas likely came about with unsafe handling practices of infected bushmeat by hunters and butchers between 1915 and 1931. In America, by the early to mid-1980s an AIDS diagnosis was thought to be a sure death sentence.

O.Henry’s, originally on Haywood Street, opened in October 1976. It served as a local information hub once AIDS began decimating this country’s gay population. O.Henry’s acted as an outreach mission and a therapist’s couch to succor the afflicted, as an impromptu funeral parlor, a place to mourn the loss of yet another fallen friend, or a place to stage a wake.  

O.Henry’s launched its long-running tradition of raising money for AIDS-related research and support services back in the early 1980s, with most of the funds going to the Western North Carolina AIDS Project. With Asheville’s large gay population, the effect of the national AIDS crisis was immediate. “Everybody was dropping dead,” bartender Lee Ramey once commented. “When so many people frequent the bar for so many years, there’s a camaraderie,” one time co-owner Pete Moyle said. “How could anybody deal with losing a lot of friends? When this first started out, I lost about 20 people a year.”

Faced with watching loved ones die, bartender Bob Rodney felt he had to do something. So in 1985, two years after joining the O.Henry’s staff, he began conducting fund-raising campaigns in the bar. During an early fund-raising venture, an O.Henry’s customer left a gold ring in the tip jar. Taking it to a friend’s antique store to pawn it, Rodney was instead given additional items to sell. Soon other people were donating items as well, and the fundraiser became an auction.

O. Henry’s continues to partner with WNCAP today. Derrick Boyd, the current owner of the bar, serves on the WNCAP board of directors. O.Henry’s along with Wicked Weed are co-presenting sponsors of the WNCAP Auction & Gala. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 828 252-7489.

Author: Lucy Doyle

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