Philly AIDS Thrift plans to expand as it recovers from COVID hit

The thrift store that supports HIV/AIDS advocacy and treatment organization anticipates a strong resurgence as COVID-19 restrictions lift.

Philly AIDS Thrift in Queen Village (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

Philly AIDS Thrift in Queen Village (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

After its revenues plummeted during the pandemic, Philly AIDS Thrift is starting to recover from a painful year. The organization anticipates a strong resurgence in business as COVID-19 restrictions lift, and is now preparing to expand.

“We’ve been slammed with donations. People had a lot of time to clean and purge during quarantine,” said Christina Kallas-Saritsoglou, co-founder of PAT. “Volunteers dropped off, but are starting to come back. We’re starting to feel whole again.”

PAT’s business model is based on selling donated goods and distributing the proceeds to local HIV/AIDS advocacy and treatment organizations. It also gives out grants to other groups each year.

Ordinarily, PAT would be able to allocate $300,000, but the pandemic-related shutdowns caused the nonprofit’s proceeds to take a six-figure deficit.

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“We were closed for over three months, so that’s a lot of revenue that’s not being made,” said Kallas-Saritsoglou.

The organization had to dismiss about 60% of its volunteers, she said.

“We loved boasting that we had 100 volunteers at one time, and because of health issues or people wanting to hold back in coming in, we lost over half of them,” she said.

She still stays in touch with PAT’s community of volunteers and anticipates many will return soon, but in the meantime, the organization has been using work-study students from local colleges to staff the registers.

Business slowly picked up toward the end of the year, as COVID-19 restrictions in the city eased, and PAT was still able to donate around $200,000 to 24 different organizations across the area.

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“Our community is fantastic, super supportive. They’ve been shopping and we’re still bringing in money,” said Kallas-Saritsoglou. “We’re slowly creeping back to where we were and we’re super appreciative of that.”

Now, with even more restrictions lifted, PAT is eyeing a new project.

For the first time in over a decade, the nonprofit is preparing to expand the store to accommodate more donations and allow for more registers and sales areas. The proposed plan for its South Street Headhouse District shop will add about 4,000 square feet to the existing 19,000 square feet of space.

PAT’s landlord allowed the group to use some unused space in the building to be more compliant with COVID-19 physical distancing requirements over the past year. Featuring a set of double doors on the outside, the temporary expansion allowed for people to bring their donations without crowding.

To raise the $3,000 needed for the new expansion, PAT partnered with the Philadelphia Film Society to host a screening of John Waters’ 1974 camp classic “Female Trouble” at the Philadelphia Navy Yard Wednesday night. This is the second time it has hosted a joint drive-in fundraiser, after PAT hosted a screening of “Beetlejuice” at the Navy Yard in October to provide some extra operating money.

“We are so excited about the new opportunities that the additional space will offer us in terms of increasing the processing of donations, as well as additional sales space,” said PAT Board President Michael Byrne. “This will allow us to better fulfill our mission of funding life altering services for individuals impacted by HIV/AIDS across the Delaware Valley.”

Byrne called raising money for the new space while watching a camp/cult classic “right up our alley — and the perfect way to celebrate Philly Gay Pride Month.”

The event was a hit, selling all 150 tickets and raising the $3,000 needed for the expansion. Fundraising for the project will continue through June, with the renovations looking to wrap up and debut in mid to late summer.

With the additional space for donations and registers, PAT anticipates generating more revenue, which will partially go toward continuing to provide HIV and other sexually transmitted infection (STI) tests and resources.

“Most of us thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s like a two week long vacation,’” said Jorian Rivera-Veintidos, senior HIV tester with GALEI.

The organization was originally founded for gay and lesbian AIDS activism and education for the Latin community, but has since widened its focus as a more inclusive social justice organization. Before the pandemic, GALEI hosted STI testing both at its own site and on the second floor of the Philly AIDS Thrift.

“We thought we’d come back rejuvenated, but two weeks has turned into almost a year and a half now,” Rivera-Veintidos said.

With many of its operations shuttered, GALEI turned to telemedicine to support community members. But ultimately, the lack of in-person appointments started to wear on patients whose care is best-administered face-to-face.

Rivera-Veintidos said the past year’s lack of testing at GALEI “left a hole in the community.”

GALEI and PAT are now in conversations to bring on-site testing back to the AIDS Thrift. But in the meantime, GALEI’s STI/HIV testing operations are at full capacity at its new Norris Square location.

“Our doors are fully open for services. People can schedule their appointments today, tomorrow, the next day,” Rivera-Veintidos said, adding that people can get HIV/STI testing and COVID-19 testing during the week between Tuesday and Friday.

GALEI is also running a COVID-19 vaccination drive on June 5.

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