By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter –
This story first appeared online on Nov. 23, 2020.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma City performance artist Sonja Martinez will host her 30th Annual Christmas AIDS Benefit on Monday, December 14. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s event will be held virtually via Zoom.
“I’m excited to announce the 30th annual Sonja Martinez Christmas AIDS Benefit, benefitting the Winds House,” Jon Martinez, Board President of Winds House. said in a video posted on Facebook.
“There’s a great lineup of entertainment with Sonja Martinez, Roxie Hart, John Martin Beebe, Bebe Adams, Rachael Leonhart, Teeke Larue, Matthew Heath Fitzgerald, Bunny La Marr and Chez Redmond, brought to you virtually from the stages of Angles Club (2117 N.W. 39 Expressway) on December 14, at 7 p.m.” he added.
“Sonja’s show has always been a great beginning to the holiday season, bringing so much joy, warmth and happiness to everyone who has been a part of it,” Jon added.
“This year has been a tough year on us all, and Sonja is once again bringing family and friends together for this tradition, albeit virtually,” he continued. “We, at the Winds House, could not provide the services that we provide for our residents, without the big hearts of everyone involved with the annual benefit.”
Martinez began her own work to help support AIDS charities in 1991 after losing several close friends to AIDS.
When Jackie and Barbara Cooper were putting together Oklahoma City’s large Red Tie event after losing their son to AIDS, it prompted Martinez to start a smaller scale benefit for the gay community and hold it in a gay venue. She began hosting small dinner shows at Oklahoma City’s Gushers Restaurant located in the Habana Inn and asked other local singers to perform with her.
Over the past 29 years, the Christmas Benefit has raised over $217,837.00 for the AIDS cause.
During the first 17 years, the funds raised from Sonja’s events were donated to Loaves and Fishes, a Catholic Charities Meals on Wheels program. When Sister Gail Addis, who was active in that program, returned to Michigan, Martinez began donating to The Winds House in Oklahoma City.
“I chose the Winds House after much thought and several interviews 13 years ago. They are a dedicated group and the entire board are volunteers who keep the focus on the goal of helping the residents of their two houses,” Sonja said.
The Board recently renovated their two houses located at 1707 NW 17th and 1725 NW 18th Streets. The Winds House and The Winds Family House are owned and operated by the AIDS Support Program, Inc. (A.S.P.), a non-profit, privately funded organization founded in the 1980’s.
The two residences are part of a transitional program for individuals with HIV/AIDS who are homeless or who are faced with the imminent threat of becoming homeless. The Winds House program offers residents a chance to develop skills, find employment, seek educational possibilities, and help in applying for SSA Disability.
“The Winds House gave us the option to focus our money on food, medication and other specific needs,” she added.
As a result of her many fundraisers and generosity toward the gay community, Martinez has been awarded numerous honors. She was given the Richard May Award established by the Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund in 2009, in 2012 she received the Cimarron Alliance Bill Rogers Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2017, she was honored as the OKC Pride Parade Grand Marshall.
“I am going virtual so no one is exposed to the virus this year, “Sonja said. “There is no way we could have the benefit like last year. It is just not safe and so many of my supporters are at risk I could not live with myself if anyone got sick.
All donations for the event are appreciated and will go to support The Winds House in Oklahoma City. Make checks payable to The Winds House and mail to: PO Box 12185, Oklahoma City, OK 73157. To learn more, visit whokc.org
The City Sentinel staff sends our condolences to Sonja, Dee, Bernie and all of the family and friends of Jesse Martinez who passed away on Thanksgiving Day. August 10, 1925 – November 26, 2020).