For a few hours Saturday the New Haven Country Club got a taste of a Bavarian beer hall.
AIDS Project New Haven hosted the first annual Oktoberfest — a German-style beer celebration to raise money for AIDS treatment — at the clubhouse in Hamden, where over 130 people enjoyed the German beer, food, traditional music and atmosphere of the annual Munich festival for which it was named. The celebration included a silent auction for restaurant coupons, museum tickets, pottery goods and other prizes.
“We had a great turnout, and we received tremendous support from the community,” events coordinator Fran McMullen said.
While precise numbers are still not available, Oktoberfest raised approximately $10,000 to $15,000, according to APNH Executive Director Christopher Cole. McMullen said that the event benefited from the support of the country club, as well as from donations of sponsors. Ben Bloom, owner of Branford’s La Cuisine Cafe, donated all the food, she added.
In addition to raising funds, Oktoberfest helped to bring awareness to AIDS treatment programs and initiatives, McMullen said.
“The [public] urgency seems not to be there anymore,” she said. “However, the number of AIDS diagnoses has increased. Oktoberfest, as well as many other activities promoted by APNH, help us keep people aware.”
The funds raised from the event will allow the organization to fill the gap created by the recent cuts in federal funding, which McMullen said will decrease to half its current total for her group in a few years.
Although Oktoberfest is in its first year, APNH has historically held a black-tie gala with a more expensive ticket. McMullen said the organization created Oktoberfest this year to have “something more fun.”
Several attendees and volunteers told the News they appreciated the change of tone.
“It is worth the effort and worth the money,” said Mark DeFelice, a supporter of the organization.
Donna Buckley, a volunteer at the event, also applauded the event. “It’s the first time I’ve volunteered for this organization,” she said. “I am really moved by the passion these people have. They do it because they care about those who are generally left behind.”
A middle-aged woman who wished to remain anonymous, citing reputation concerns, expressed her gratitude to the organization. “The agency [APNH] has been a great support to me,” she said. “I am a person living with AIDS and the organization really helped me feel connected.”
State Representative Patricia Dillon, in attendance at the event, emphasized the importance of groups like APNH.
“It’s hugely important to raise awareness about AIDS,” she said. “Not everyone gets diagnosed or has access to the medications. What APNH does is provide financial support and give visibility to this issue.”
APNH is the oldest AIDS service organization in the state.