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Blocks from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, remembering those who died of the illness, are on display in Springfield through Sunday

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is part of the National AIDS Memorial based in San Francisco.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt consists of nearly 50,000 panels and weighs about 54 tons. The idea for the quilt was conceived in San Francisco in November 1985 by longtime gay rights activist, Cleve Jones, according to the National AIDS Memorial.

Part of the quilt is currently on exhibit in Springfield. The public was invited to request that certain panels be included.

There are 32 blocks on display at National Avenue Christian Church through Sunday. A block is 12'X12', and each block has eight panels, which are 3'X6'.

"And that was intentional by the creators. That is the size of a coffin because they wanted to see, if this was all laid out, how many, in their words, 'how many bodies all piled up,'" said Wade Shelton, community development coordinator for AIDS Project of the Ozarks, which brought the exhibit to Springfield from San Francisco where the quilt is kept.

The panels on display in Springfield have at least 250 names on them of people who have died of AIDS. People could request to have certain panels included in the exhibit. And a computer allows anyone to look up and view a panel that isn't in Springfield.

Names of those who have died of AIDS are read twice an hour.

AIDS Memorial Quilt 4
Michele Skalicky
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Part of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on exhibit in Springfield

The exhibit opened on World AIDS Day, and Shelton hopes it serves as a reminder of those who were lost to AIDS but also a chance to see how far we’ve come.

"I don't want to take away the fact that we are still adding panels to the quilt," he said. "It's just not being added in the mass amount of numbers that it used to be, and that's a great thing, but I think it's very important to remember that this is still a relevant disease. This is still happening."

In 2019, there were 488 new HIV diagnoses in Missouri and 36,801 people received a diagnosis in the U.S., according to the CDC. The Black population is most impacted by HIV followed by Hispanics and Latinos. AIDS Project of the Ozarks serves more than 700 people in the Ozarks who are living with HIV/AIDS.

The organization offers HIV testing five days a week in Springfield.

Shelton said testing is extremely important, but shame and stigma that still exists with being diagnosed with or tested for HIV/AIDS still exists, he said, and that needs to change. Treatment now consists of just one pill, according to Shelton. And the medicine can reduce the amount of HIV in the body to a level so low that a test can't detect it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its website. When the viral load is undetectable, according to the CDC, the risk of transmission drops to nearly zero.

Quilt panels are being accepted during the exhibit at National Avenue Christian Church. Hours for viewing the exhibit are Thursday noon to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

Learn more about the exhibit and about testing available at AIDS Project of the Ozarks at apo-ozarks.org.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.