The AIDS Holiday Project helps local families affected by the virus


Reporter - Kathryn DiGisi

WEST FRANKFORT, Ill. - 150...that is the number of low-income households in Southern Illinois affected by HIV and AIDS.

Without the help of others, these families would not be able to afford to celebrate Christmas with gifts because of costly medical bills.

The AIDS Holiday Project and St. John's Catholic School in West Frankfort stepped in to shower these families with Christmas blessings.

Presents on top of presents...on top of more presents!

"I think this is a deep-fry cooker down on the bottom. And, I'm not really sure what's in the middle," said St. John's 7th grader Ryan Hopkins.

All the gifts were wrapped by 7th and 8th graders from St. John's.

To top off the haul was a hand-written note from the kids.

"And we said, 'dear family, we really enjoyed doing the shopping and wrapping for you guys...," said Hopkins.

All of the boxes went to a family of six that is affected by HIV/AIDS.

It is a cause organizer Wally Paynter is passionate about.

He has lost many loved ones because of the deadly virus.

"Even today, there is still stigma attached to HIV. There is still discrimination that happens," said Paynter.

He wants to change that, one present at a time.

"Change is happening and people do want to help people still," said Paynter.

Kids like Hopkins make him feel like his dream of acceptance and generosity is not far off.

"It's like waking up on Christmas, and seeing all these presents...except you give them to other people and it makes other people happy," said Hopkins.

Hopkins will not be able to see the family read the card, but he says he can only imagine their faces!

"Merry Christmas from the St. John's School and we all signed our names on it," said Hopkins.

There are still nine families affected by HIV and AIDS in Southern Illinois that need sponsors.

If you are interested in learning more about the AIDS Holiday Project and how to sponsor a family, visit our web channel at and click "find It."