Vermont CARES auction funds ambitious mission

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A Vermont nonprofit says it can hit the brakes on new HIV infections in the state, and they're raising money to make it happen.

It's Vermont CARES biggest fundraiser of the year. "This is so important to help our mission," said the organization's Peter Jacobsen. The group launched its "On the Road to Zero campaign three years ago. Its mission -- to end HIV in Vermont.

It got a new mobile testing van donated by Elton John and started driving to underserved areas where testing, prevention and other health services wasn't offered, and people were at higher risk of contracting HIV. "It's important to reach rural areas," Jacobsen said.

Right now an estimated 700 Vermonters are living with HIV. And new infections continue to drop -- down to about 20 a year. The organization says it can get that number to zero by next year.

The mobile testing is critical in reducing those numbers, but so is its syringe exchange program. People with substance abuse disorders can trade used needles in for new ones.

Vermont CARES was also the first organization in the state to hand out fentanyl testing kits. CARES says those kits are saving lives. They let a user know if their heroin is laced with the powerful and often deadly drug Fentanyl.

But this all takes money, so Vermont CARES counts on its annual auction and gala to offset costs. Bidders Friday can find
plane tickets, staycations, art, Made in Vermont products featured on the Channel 3 News, and great local restaurants like Hen of the Wood, Great Northern, and Misery Loves Company. "You name it, we've got it," Jacobsen said.

Doors at the UVM Alumni House in Burlington open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30 and there's free food and music. Plus, our own Darren Perron is emceeing the event.