Philly AIDS Thrift makes biggest donation since its founding in 2005

Since opening in 2005, the quirky thrift store near South Street has given away its proceeds to AIDS-related causes. This year was its biggest ever.

Philly AIDS Thrift store, known for its whimsical decor style, was voted best thrift store in Pennsylvania by Apartment Therapy in 2022. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)

Philly AIDS Thrift store, known for its whimsical decor style, was voted best thrift store in Pennsylvania by Apartment Therapy in 2022. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)

Old t-shirts. Ugly sweaters. Dog-eared books. Mismatched glassware. A hutch crammed full of dolls.

What’s it all worth?

In the right hands: $4 million.

Philly AIDS Thrift was founded in 2005 to generate money for HIV/AIDS-related prevention and support services. Every year the store distributes its proceeds as grants to eligible organizations in Philadelphia.

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On Wednesday, it gave away more money than it ever has before, to more organizations than it ever has before: $372,000 to 34 organizations. Board president Michael Byrne said that brings it to a 17-year total of more than $4 million.

This year’s distribution is a big leap from last year’s, at $300,035.

“We’ve gotten a lot of new organizations this year that are really excited and are doing work that no one else is touching,” said Byrne.

Byrne made an example of Serenity House, a safe house in Kensington for women, trans, and gender non-conforming sex workers where they can get a shower, a change of clothes, food, and some sleep, as well as clean wounds and access harm-reduction supplies.

“All things that help keep them from getting HIV,” Byrne said. ”No one else is doing that work anywhere that I’m aware of.”

Andre Ford (left), executive director of the Colours Organization, receives a check from Michael Byrne, board president of Philly AIDS Thrift, during a ceremony at William Way Community Center on Spruce Street. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)

Grant recipients also include organizations such as the COLOURS Organization, supporting LGBTQ+ people of color; Planned Parenthood Keystone, the PP office of Central and Eastern Pennsylvania; the Attic Youth Center in Center City, supporting LGBTQ+ youth; and Galaei in Kensington, serving queer, trans, and people of color with a particular focus on Latino communities.

Philly AIDS Thrift used to give its proceeds to the AIDS Fund, which would distribute the money through its RFP (Request for Proposals) process. In recent years the thrift store has been aggressively expanding. In 2014, it took over the Giovanni’s Room bookstore on 12th Street which is America’s oldest gay bookstore now turning 50 years old. As of two years ago, the group now occupies the entire building on 5th Street where the thrift store is located.

Last year Philly AIDS Thrift, known for its massive inventory and quirky decor, was ranked the #1 thrift store in Pennsylvania by the website Apartment Therapy.

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“The only time that we took a dip was definitely when the pandemic hit,” said co-founder Christina Kallas-Saritsoglou. “But the last couple of years we’ve been moving forward and upward. We’ve been having great success and more dollars to give.”

Five years ago, Philly AIDS Thrift created its own, internal RFP process to distribute its money to eligible organizations. The money is intended to be used specifically for HIV/AIDS-related programs within the recipient organizations.

Philly AIDS Thrift on 5th Street near South, also runs Giovanni’s Room on 12th Street. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)

“Every year a couple more pop up as word gets out,” said Byrne. “We encourage people throughout the year. So, if I meet someone who’s doing a program, I’m like, ‘You really should be applying for money!’ Because we want to give it away.”

Although PAT is no longer using the AIDS Fund to distribute money, Byrne said the organization is still giving $5,000 to the fund every month.

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