NEW ORLEANS — The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has come and gone, but what you may not know is 10 years ago, in the storm’s aftermath, an internationally known celebrity was quietly working to help us rebuild.
It was Elizabeth Taylor. And recently, her granddaughter came to New Orleans to see what she had done.
And that gift is still living on and saving lives.
Long before people knew what the red ribbon was for, actress Elizabeth Taylor was an advocate for people with HIV and AIDS. Through her foundation and amfAR, her leadership drove research for medication and patient care. Soon red ribbons were part of the evening wear at Hollywood award shows.
But what you may not know is when Hurricane Katrina hit 10 years ago, Taylor was watching.
“There were no whistles and bells. It wasn’t like, ‘Look what I’m doing.’ It was simply business. This needs to be done,” said her granddaughter Naomi Wilding.
Wilding is now an ambassador the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation headquartered in Beverly Hills. She came to New Orleans to see what her grandmother did right after Katrina when HIV patients had nowhere to turn for treatment.
“This van does something very unique, and we wouldn’t be able to access many areas of the community that are severely affected by the HIV and AIDS epidemic,” said Joey Olsen, the counseling, testing and referrals manager at NO/AIDS Task Force.
After the storm, the NO/AIDS Task Force that served 1,200 people — helping with diagnosis, treatment, medication, housing, meals and counseling — had no home. Like everyone, people were scattered, offices in ruins, money dwindling, and jobs were in jeopardy.
Elizabeth Taylor came to the rescue, donating a custom treatment mobile unit. The CEO remembers the phone call.
“I have a person of notoriety and means that would like to do something for the people in New Orleans. It was a symbol of hope that we were going to get back to better than we were,” remembers Noel Twilbeck, the CEO of CrescentCare.
One patient who came back to New Orleans was diagnosed positive and then had a place to turn.
“It chokes me up too. It makes you feel very, very grateful that there are people out there who have a big heart,” said CrescentCare client Dorian-Gray Alexander.
His virus is now undetectable and can’t be transmitted. He was just one of many who benefited.
“At the beginning, it was a lot of stigma, stuff we had to deal with, but we persisted. We kept going out. We kept being visible to the community,” said Abraham Narvaez, the care van coordinator for NO/AIDS Task Force.
“It was a realization that people cared, that people had compassion, and we’re going to make the difference,” said Twilbeck with tears in his eyes.
“She understood that providing care was the best way to help people, and since then it’s really come about to be true. That was the value that she taught us, was kindness to others and do what you can to help others. Always,” said Wilding.
And even though Taylor is gone, her act of kindness lives on.
Taylor made arrangements for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation to live on long after her death. Wilding and other grandchildren and great grandchildren are working as foundation ambassadors to honor her memory.
Read the original story on wwltv.com