Every holiday season for 24 years, Dallas Tavern Guild volunteers have made sure that people with HIV/AIDS don’t feel left out
To contribute to the Dallas Tavern Guild’s Holiday Gift Project,
click here or send a donation payable to Dallas Tavern Guild to
P.O. Box 192478, Dallas, TX 75219.
For the 24th consecutive year, the Dallas Tavern Guild will distribute gift packages this holiday season to people living with HIV/AIDS.
And for the 24th consecutive year, Paul A. Lewis is helping to coordinate the project.
Lewis, now 64, was good friends with former Tavern Guild Executive Director Alan Ross, who launched the project in 1986 and died from HIV/AIDS in 1995.
Lewis retired as a vice president and general manager for Caven Enterprises in 2008 after 27 consecutive years with the company that owns and operates four nightclubs on the Cedar Springs strip.
Lewis said he’s disabled by diabetes and heart disease. But that hasn’t stopped him from coordinating the Tavern Guild’s Holiday Gift Project.
"If I didn’t volunteer any other place, I would always do that," Lewis said this week.
"I think I’m kind of the end of the line. Unfortunately most of the bar owners [who started it] are gone. I’m one of the lone survivors."
Lewis recalled that when the project began, many people living with HIV/AIDS had been shunned by family and friends and were dying in places like the AIDS wing at Parkland Hospital.
"They didn’t have anything at all for Christmas," he said. "It was just a little spark for them. That’s what it was for, just to give somebody a little smile."
In its first year, the project distributed about 400 gift packages, Lewis said. This year, the goal is to distribute 1,000 packages to clients from numerous local agencies, including AIDS Services of Dallas, Resource Center Dallas, Legacy Founders Cottage, Parkland Hospital, AIDS Arms Inc. and AIDS Interfaith Network.
Each gift bag is assembled at a cost of about $35 and includes things like cookies, candy, fresh fruit, a Teddy bear and greeting cards listing donors to the gift project.
The Tavern Guild sends out letters seeking donations for the project, and each member is expected to contribute at least $100, according to current Tavern Guild Executive Director Michael Doughman. The Tavern Guild is made up of about 20 gay and lesbian bars in Dallas.
The Kroger store on Cedar Springs Road typically donates some of the food, and MetroGames Inc. — which operates vending machines in many of the bars — supplies the Teddy bears.
In recent years the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce has conducted a toy drive benefiting the Tavern Guild’s Holiday Gift Project.
At noon on Dec. 17, employees from Tavern Guild member bars will gather to set up an assembly line inside Station 4 to put together the gift bags.
Lewis said he particularly enjoys "the camaraderie of that day, with all of the bartenders and bar staff from all those bars that you never see if you don’t go out to the bars."
"The bar owners all stop by and say hi, and we deliver them [the gift bags] ourselves," he said.
Doughman called it "a great day."
"We all just show up and it’s just sort of a big old get-together," he said. "We really enjoy it. Plus you leave feeling like you’ve done something for other folks."
Doughman said it’s critical that the Tavern Guild bring in enough donations to keep the Holiday Gift Project self-sustaining, because the organization won’t have any income until it starts raising money for next year’s Pride parade.
"It’s a tight time for everybody, so it’s important that we give something to these agencies at this time of year," Doughman said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 4, 2009.