Gary Cheatham founded Auntie Helen’s in a one-car garage in July, 1988, as a fluff and fold laundry project to help one person with AIDS.
After that, four very important people entered Gary’s life and put Auntie’s on very positive footing. Joan Kroc (her husband, Ray Kroc, helped start McDonalds), San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor, The Mayor’s twin sister Mavoureen, and the distinguished community activist Ben Dillingham. These people helped open and financially support the store in North Park where Auntie’s has been for 29 years.
Since that time, our grassroots, community-based agency has served thousands of people with HIV and AIDS, providing free laundry services for people who are too sick to do their own. Auntie Helen’s expanded to include a thrift shop in August 1989. Co-located with our laundry service, the shop financially assists the laundry operation.
Auntie Helen’s was the first program of its kind, and is still the only one of its kind currently operating in the U.S. Auntie Helen’s was named as a National Point of Light by The White House in 1991. Auntie Helen’s has also received an Apostolic Blessing from His Holiness Pope John Paul II, and has been awarded many state and local honors.
Since our humble beginnings, 100% of the net proceeds have benefited HIV/AIDS organizations in San Diego and San Diego County. We started with a voucher program, which provided clothing and items to our referred clients, clothing and blankets for the homeless, and small food distribution for those living with HIV/AIDS. We still provide laundry services for those clients referred to us by a licensed doctor. Additionally, we have volunteers from the TRACE, ARC and SIP programs which are all Mental Health programs with the school, county and private sectors.
We are managed by a small staff of dedicated professionals, and many compassionate, caring volunteers. Funding for Auntie Helen’s services comes from private individuals, foundations, corporations, government sources, and the Auntie Helen’s thrift store.