Margo Martinez says the volunteers at the AIDS Food Store of Long Beach were "given a gift" to help individuals with HIV or AIDS. For 27 years, the AIDS Food Store, which is located at Christ Chapel of Long Beach, has operated a free weekly or bi-monthly food distribution. Participants do not have to be members of the church; the only requirement is to have an HIV diagnosis. And for 27 years, Martinez, 75, has volunteered at the food store and now serves as the interim director. The food store started in 1985, at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic. It was a time when many churches - and large parts of the American public - shunned, ostracized and cast vitriol at gay men with AIDS. The members at Christ Chapel, however, opened their arms to these men, even when neighbors protested against the food store. When Christ Chapel opened its doors in 1981, it was Long Beach's first gay friendly church. "Some people in the neighborhood didn't want us doing the food store," Martinez said. "They didn't want to see people here. They would walk across the street to avoid people waiting in line at the church." But the church didn't yield to the animosity. "It was a gift we were given to take care of these men. We were called to take care of our brothers who needed taking care of," said Martinez. "God provided for us to do this. We weren't afraid. The job had to be done. We never turned anyone away."
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