Robert Painter will never forget the kindness that was shown to his dying friend.
When his friend, Tim, moved back to Oklahoma City from Dallas in 2008, Painter didn’t know his friend had come home to die.
Tim — Painter declined to provide his last name — had AIDS. He was suffering from symptoms including Kaposi's sarcoma, a type of cancer that can cause painful skin lesions, and he couldn’t afford medicine to treat the disease or its symptoms.
Painter contacted Other Options’ founder Cookie Arbuckle and her daughter Mary Arbuckle, who now runs the organization that helps people with HIV and AIDS. They were able to help connect Tim with medical services to help ease his suffering for the last few months of his life.
Five years later, Painter continues to repay that kindness.
“For the last six months of his life, they made it as comfortable as it could possibly be,” Painter said. “They found him what he needed, they found him what they could. ... After that, after the kindness that Mary and Cookie showed, I’ve 100 percent given myself to Other Options.”
Painter, managing partner of the Iguana restaurants in Oklahoma City, will be awarded the Richard May Award on Saturday at the 22nd Red Tie Night. The event raises more than $1 million to support Oklahoma agencies that provide preventative measures and clinical services and support to those living with and who are at risk for HIV/AIDS.
The award is named after one of the original founders of the Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund and is given to a person who works to promote HIV/AIDS education and prevention and helps people living with the disease.
Painter receives the award, in part, because of his efforts to organize thousands of pounds of food that are delivered each year on Thanksgiving to people throughout the Oklahoma City metro who have HIV or AIDS and could not likely afford much for a holiday meal.
In the early 2000s, Painter started out simply helping deliver meals, like the hundreds of people who show up each year to take the holiday meals across Oklahoma City. It wasn’t until Tim’s death that Painter became even more involved.
For example, Painter’s 40th birthday party was a fundraiser for Other Options that raised $20,000. That money helped the agency buy a building for its office and food pantry.
Since becoming an organizer for Other Options’ Thanksgiving meal delivery, Painter has seen the program grow from 225 meals in 2006 to 750 meals in 2013 — unfortunately, due to need.
“It’s a number you don’t enjoy seeing grow, but what you do enjoy is the number of people who continue to give the food and give their time,” Painter said. “It’s amazing the number of people who show up for that now.”
Painter said he wants to continue to spread awareness about AIDS, including prevention among the younger generation that did not live through the 1980s era when so many people were dying from the disease.
Statistics show the younger generation is among the fastest-growing sector of new infections, according to the Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund.
“I’m one voice, and I’m going to continue to tell the stories of Tim, Troy, Michael, Joe, Steve; those are the people in my life,” Painter said.
22nd Red Tie Night
What: The 22nd Red Tie Night, the sole fundraiser for the Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund, an organization that helps finance grants for community-based initiatives
When: 6 p.m. Saturday at the Cox Convention Center
Tickets: $350 each, along with sponsorships for couples and groups starting at $1,000.
All money generated through the event stays in Oklahoma to support those living with HIV/AIDS.
For more information, go to www.okaidscarefund.com.