Fine dining for a cause

Annual wine tasting to benefit FAITH services for those living with HIV/AIDS

For the 16th consecutive year, Sparrow Wine and Liquor Co. will host its Annual Grand Tasting on Nov. 15 to benefit community non-profit FAITH Services, a local agency that offers support to HIV positive men and women. The event will offer foods from 25 restaurants in Hoboken and Jersey City as well as tables manned by liquor vendors and spirit experts. The tables will feature over 200 fine wines and liquors and the event has attracted as many as 1,000 attendees in previous years.
The Annual Grand Tasting will take place this year at the Westin Hotel in Newport, Jersey City.
“We’ve used the Westin for the last few years,” said president of Sparrow Wine and Liquor Co. Armando Luis, “after [the event] outgrew every other venue [around].”
Luis, whose family took over Sparrow Wine and Liquor Co. in 1977, also explained why FAITH Services is always picked as the beneficiary.

“I was flabbergasted to hear the number of people in Hudson County who were HIV positive.” – Armando Luis
“When we were looking for a charity, Mayor [Anthony] Russo directed us to FAITH. I was flabbergasted to hear the number of people in Hudson County who were HIV positive. There were a remarkable number of kids in the school system [too]. While I feel this event helps out monetarily, more importantly, it brings awareness.”

Have a little FAITH

FAITH Services is a community-based non-profit affiliated with Hoboken University Medical Center. FAITH Services offers all the fundamentals of support to men and women who have tested positive for HIV/AIDS.
These services include primary care, blood work, referrals for dental or eye care, NJ state programs that cover the cost of medicine, education in terms of adherence, support groups and a weekly visiting mental health specialist to help with depression, anger or denial.
FAITH Services sees close to 1,000 local patients, and according to Director Gustavo Valdes, a rising number of them are young adults.
“The trend now with young people,” said Valdes, “is that they think AIDS/HIV is a thing of the 80’s or 90’s. They think they can take 1 or 2 pills a day and live with the disease, so they think I’ll risk it and if I become HIV positive, ‘I’ll just take pills.’”
Armando Luis also said that young adults are ill-informed of the risks.
“It seems like kids don’t take it seriously anymore,” Luis said. “The image set by long-time surviving celebrities has made them not scared anymore, and they should be.”
Valdes agreed. “People took ‘undetectable’ to mean cured. While the levels of HIV in the bloodstream may no longer be detected due to the medication, [HIV] can still find other spots in the body. [The disease] may not be life threatening, but it is not curable and [HIV] is something people will have to live with for the rest of their lives.”
Valdes became involved with HIV/AIDS after moving from Spain and losing many friends to the disease. He explained that at the beginning of the epidemic, art museums observed a “Day without Art” in which artwork would be pulled from the walls or entire museums would close their doors to focus on the AIDS crisis. That was when Valdes began actively participating in HIV support. He began working at FAITH nearly 20 years ago, when they had only two case managers, today there are 27.
“In the beginning, it was thought to be a homosexual male disease,” said Valdes. “It went to being everybody’s disease. The Hispanic population started to become very visible in terms of HIV, and Hudson County has a very high Hispanic population.”
While grants are effective in providing for specific services, they do not fully fund things like food, emergencies or utilities.
“People may get the medicine, but not necessarily be able to keep their refrigerator on because they can’t pay their electric bill,” Valdes said. “Funds from this wine tasting help to supplement [grant money] so we can provide things like a food voucher program designed for fixed income families, or a Thanksgiving food drive.”

Wining and dining

The Annual Grand Tasting has attracted 1,000 attendees in the past and both Sparrow Wine and FAITH Services are optimistic they will see similar numbers this year.
“Sparrow does this event because they really truly want to help,” said Valdes. “Everything comes directly to us. And the restaurants are also very generous. It’s a win-win.”
Luis said that Sparrow Wine and Liquor is happy to give back. “We use our leverage to have the wine and beer supplied by our vendors,” said Luis. “I have always lived in Hoboken. My children go to school here. We are very involved in the community. We employ Hoboken people. We’re not just a wine shop, much less a liquor store.”
Luis and Valdes both emphasized just how much fun the event has been in previous years.
“The demographic of the event is young and hip,” said Valdes.
“This event has married people off in previous years,” added Luis.
Attendees are strongly encouraged not to drive, unless they are staying overnight at the Westin. The PATH station is across the street from the event. In prior years, Sparrow Wine and Liquor Co. has worked with local cab companies and this year, hopes to add shuttle buses.
To purchase tickets, go to

Amanda Palasciano may be reached at

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