Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation: Always Saying ‘Yes’

"To make sure that all queer and trans folks and HIV community members have the opportunity and agency to live healthy, meaningful and impactful lives exactly as they are.”

Photo courtesy of the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation

The Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation opened their doors in 2017 and has been a resilient force since. Named after Hugh “Huey” Lane who died of HIV, they provide a number of services to uplift the health & wellness of the LGBTQ+ and HIV-positive communities. From legal services to counselling for queer youth & their families, their support is open to anyone in Southwestern Pennsylvania and beyond. They also provide training in order to magnify an organization’s capacity for LGBTQ+ and HIV-positive clientele.

“We want to make sure that whatever we’re doing, we’re trying to address inequities and disparities that exist across our systems,” avows Sarah Russo, the foundation’s executive director. “To make sure that all queer and trans folks and HIV community members have the opportunity and agency to live healthy, meaningful and impactful lives exactly as they are.”

Photo courtesy of the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation

Their primary goal is to combat health disparities in the queer and HIV-positive population. Hugh Lane Wellness provides a variety of material goods from hygiene products, condoms, diapers, testing kits, Plan B, and – particularly – food. Providing food is one way the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation creates healthy minds and healthy hearts to build a resilient community.

Food insecurity is an issue that plagues the LGBTQ+ and HIV-positive population. As we sink into the holiday season, many cannot gather around with family with hearty meals and gifts while warmed by a cozy fireplace as depicted in the media. They may be distant from their families due to their queerness and their HIV status. Others dread reuniting with relatives, having to either return to the closet or withstand their ignorance & antagonism. For those struggling with income, they may not have a meal to gather around to.

Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation’s Holiday Rainbow Bag program offers specialized meals to individuals in need. People who register can select from a variety of offerings to form their meal to hold their holiday as well as accommodate dietary restrictions for health or religious reasons. Then Hugh Lane staff will deliver the meals in rainbow packaging, hence the name. Last November, the foundation served over 270 people their own Friendsgiving rainbow turkey bag.  

Photo courtesy of the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation

The program picks up a different name depending on the season, but it’s intended to be inclusive of the diversity of holidays folk celebrate. Friendsgiving is not just an alternative to Thanksgiving – it’s a queer holiday in its own right to celebrate found families and our authentic selves. It promises true belonging, especially for indigenous folk for whom the traditional story of Thanksgiving reminds them of the lies and suffering of colonialism. There are plenty more holidays in November and December than Thanksgiving and Christmas, such as Hanukkah, Kwanza, and the traditional New Year’s Eve. Besides, nothing is stopping someone from forming their own excuse to combat isolation and foster inclusion with friends & family.

Registration for the Rainbow Winter Holiday Bags is now open. If you want to receive one by Christmas or Kwanza, be sure to register by December 17. If you want to receive one before New Year’s Day, register by December 26. The foundation also welcomes volunteers to help prepare and distribute the food. 

Hugh Lane Wellness strives to provide for as many people as possible. “It’s really important to us to be able to help everybody that is part of a community that wants support and access,” says Russo. “That we can, no matter what the number is, that we’re able to say yes.”

Photo courtesy of Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation

It’s thanks to the generosity of the community that the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation can continue expanding their outreach. Giving Tuesday raised over $14,000 that’ll go on to fund the foundation’s programs. Despite supply chain issues due to the pandemic, they’ve been able to fulfill everyone’s Friendsgiving meal request thanks to plentiful donations from various individuals and businesses. They also collaborate with immigrant organizations to ensure their food pantry is stocked for everyone’s needs.

The Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation is proof that, even in the midst of lockdowns and isolation, the local community is strong against isolation and hate. We are there for each other. Hopefully, we’ll reunite in-person someday and see the fruits of our connectedness.

Alasdair (he/him) is the digital editor of QBurgh. He is a recent graduate of Chatham University with a BFA and a MA in Creative Writing. He grew up around Pittsburgh and now wishes to become involved with the local LGBTQ+ community. Through his writing, he hopes to represent and advocate for queer people like himself.