Chattanooga CARES gives away 60,000 condoms

Chattanooga CARES gives away 60,000 condoms

September 24th, 2012 by Joan Garrett McClane in Local Regional News

A bucket of condoms lies waiting for distribution Sunday at the Walgreens on Brainerd Road while James Vellequette, associate director of the Condom Nation Tour, works in the background. Condom Nation and Chattanooga CARES handed out 60,000 free condoms and offered free testing Sunday in a campaign to prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Photo by Alyson Wright /Times Free Press.

Standing along Brainerd Road, the man held his arm up high. In his hand he gripped as many wrapped rubbers as he could hold.

"Condoms! Condoms!" the man screamed.

When cars slowed and cracked their windows, he flung them into passenger seats. Another volunteer rushed onto a stopped CARTA bus and left wads of condoms on people's laps. The driver laughed.

"Jesus gonna thank you," said one woman who drove off with a pack.

"Praise the Lord," said another.

It was Sunday, and the workers with the HIV prevention organization Chattanooga CARES worried the safe-sex awareness education campaign would anger people headed back from church.

An 18-wheeler with a large sign on the side reading "Condom Nation" was parked in the Walgreens parking lot.

The 70-foot truck, sponsored by the AIDS Health Foundation, distributed 60,000 condoms in a few hours and still had 1 million left.

No one seemed to mind. People lined up, went in and out without bad news and took their protection to go.

"I don't need them, because I am trying to have another baby," said Robbie Sisemore, who came to get tested with his girlfriend and 1-year-old child. "But my neighbor is a prostitute. So I got her a box."

The poor and minorities are disproportionately affected by HIV. So the spot on Brainerd Road was chosen for a reason, said Jerry Evans, assistant director of CARES.

Some people most at risk of contracting HIV can't afford condoms, which sell in drug stores for $1.25 to $1.50 apiece, or they don't know the risks, he said.

The number of new cases of HIV isn't falling, regardless of decades of awareness. Every year, 56,000 people are diagnosed in the U.S. In Tennessee, 1,000 are diagnosed. In Southeast Tennessee, 100 catch the virus each year. Human Immunodeficiency Virus is what causes AIDS, which shorts out the body's defenses against a host of diseases.

Money is tight and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is stricter about how prevention money is spent, said Evans.

They have never had this many condoms, he said. Never.

There is no telling all the good they will do in beds all over the city.