Idea for organization began when Rodd Gray was helping install bubblegum pink carpeting in an apartment at Revlon House

DAVID TAFFET  |  [email protected]

Rodd Gray

When Home for the Holidays began in the early 1990s, the idea was simple: They raised money to send persons with AIDS home to be with their families for Christmas.

Most of the early tickets purchased were one-way tickets, used by many to go home to die.

The idea came to the group’s founder and president, Rodd Gray, when he adopted an apartment in Revlon House, one of AIDS Services of Dallas’ apartment complexes in Oak Cliff. While he was helping install bubblegum pink carpeting in the apartment, Gray became friendly with the apartment’s resident. He said all that this friend wanted to do was go to see his family, whom he hadn’t seen in 18 years.

The Revlon resident died before Gray was able to raise the money to send him home, but he was determined to help others see their families.

AIDS Services of Dallas President Don Maison said ASD has residents taking advantage of Home for the Holidays again this year. Gray said in recent years they have been sending 70 to 100 people home annually.

Over the years, the program has expanded from its original goal of sending a couple of dozen people home at Christmastime. They still send people with a full AIDS diagnosis but with no money to travel home to see their families, but the program is now year-round.

The group has also covered cremation expenses for those with no family to take care of them and they have shipped bodies home.

“We also bring a family member here so they’re not by themselves,” he said.

In the beginning, a travel agency helped with the airline contacts and tickets by waiving commissions and negotiating discounts. When travel agencies disappeared, Gray said they had to make those contacts themselves.

“We belong to AA Rainbow,” he said. “We have a code we use for a discount.”

He said that Southwest Airlines has been helpful as well.

Some tickets are paid for with donated frequent flier miles.

“Greyhound gives us free tickets,” he said. Those are useful especially for people traveling to rural areas within a few hundred miles.

“We’ve even done Amtrak,” he said.

This year the organization got a big boost when it was accepted as a Black Tie Dinner recipient. The $21,000 check they received from the dinner was the biggest infusion of cash in the group’s history.

The original fundraiser, Miss Charity America, is still going strong.

Impersonator Frank Marino from the La Cage show in Las Vegas did fundraisers for the group at Village Station twice in the mid 1990s. The first show brought in $8,000. An art auction at Jack’s Backyard in 2009 contributed more than $5,000 in three hours.

Last Saturday, the Hidden Door hosted what Gray called an evening of entertainment, cookies and sales of light bulbs for the tree that added $1,200 to the coffers.

“That will send four people home,” Gray said.

But Gray said that Black Tie Dinner meant more to his group than just the money.

“We acquired two new board members from Black Tie,” he said, “And two others are interested in the group. We didn’t expect our relationship with Black Tie to grow so quickly.”

He was astounded at the amount his group received and at the presentation event was in tears as they were handed the oversized check.

“We don’t have to turn someone down now who needs to go to Africa,” he said.
Recently, the group sent someone to Zimbabwe. Before leaving for the airport, she got a final dialysis treatment, plenty of pain medication and then boarded the plane for her long trip home.

Gray said that travel arranging involves more than just buying the ticket. The group makes sure the traveler has a way to get to and from the airport.

Gray has shuttled a number of people to DFW and Love Field for their trips home.

One recipient was afraid to fly so they spent time explaining the experience to her.

He explains to them that they need to pack light, preferably in a carry-on bag if they are strong enough to manage that. But if bags have to be checked, they need money to pay to check them.

Gray said that board members often just put tickets on their own charge cards. They know they’ll get paid back when they raise the money.
Sending people home for the holidays seemed like such an obvious idea that he looked for others doing the same thing in other cities so they could exchange ideas. But he never found a similar group.

“We’re the only group like this in the world,” he said. “We looked to find someone to share advice.”

Gray’s been raising money as Patti le Plae Safe for almost 25 years. He’ll continue doing it, he said, even if they have to wheel him out on stage in a wheelchair and he’s getting booed, because every dollar raised helps someone, he said.

“Nothing can replace the feeling of handing someone a ticket and saying, ‘You’re going home for the holidays,’” he said.

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 24, 2010.