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Promise to friend keeps Merrick woman walking for AIDS

Francine Goldstein, 67, of Merrick, receives an award

Francine Goldstein, 67, of Merrick, receives an award from, from left, AIDS Walk New York founder Craig Miller, event director Shona Borevitz, and Craig DeThomas, a board member for Gay Men's Health Crisis. (March 2012) Credit: Handout

While purchasing a new mattress at a local Sleepy’s store earlier this year, Francine Goldstein asked the salesperson to write her a check.

Goldstein, 67, of Merrick, has made similar requests to car dealers, politicians, her doctors, co-workers, friends and family during the past 25 years in her quest to raise money for organizations that support people with AIDS.

“I’m not ashamed to ask for money, especially for a cause close to my heart,” said Goldstein, who will be participating in her 25th AIDS Walk New York on Sunday in Manhattan.

Goldstein has been walking in the event every year since 1988, when one of her very close friends was diagnosed with AIDS. In her first year, her only donors were her husband, Lenny Goldstein, and her dogs, Dana and Buddy, who together contributed $150 to the cause.

Since then, she’s raised more than $390,000 by soliciting donations from practically everyone she meets. (She usually never leaves the house without a stack of letters in her purse that explains her cause and how people can support it.)

In recent years, Goldstein’s efforts have repeatedly earned her a spot among the top fundraisers. Out of the roughly 45,000 walkers who took part in the 2012 event, Goldstein was the fourth highest fundraiser and had recruited the most individual donors, more than 370, according to Shona Borevitz, event director for AIDS Walk New York.

“She’s probably the most committed walker out of all 45,000 of them,” said Borevitz, 36. “She’s just incredible.”

Goldstein’s commitment to the event stems from a promise she made 25 years ago to her friend. There were very few services available to people with AIDS when her friend was diagnosed, but Goldstein worked to ensure she received medical, legal, financial and child care services, and access to support groups. Her friend lived two-and-a-half years with the disease before she died in 1991 at the age of 36, leaving behind a 2-year-old daughter, who, Goldstein said, is HIV negative.

“I saw her every week until she died, and I told her we would make sure no one suffered like she did,” Goldstein said. “I’ve kept that promise.”

Through the money Goldstein has raised and the millions AIDS Walk New York brings in each year, Gay Men’s Health Crisis and more than 45 smaller groups throughout the Tri-State area have been providing a range of services to people affected by AIDS, especially those living under the poverty level. These organizations help them receive medical treatment, housing assistance, hot meals and counseling.

“In the early years, GMHC was principally about helping people die with dignity, but these days -- thanks in large part to efforts like AIDS Walk New York -- it’s more about helping people survive and thrive,” said Craig Miller, the founder and senior organizer of the event.

Miller has donated to Goldstein’s fundraising efforts for many years. Among her other regular supporters is Dr. Michael Stocker, a former CEO of BlueCross BlueShield, the company she worked for until her retirement four years ago.

By Saturday morning, Goldstein had raised more than $31,000 through her fundraising page. She has until June 14 to collect donations, and is expecting that check from the Sleepy’s salesman to arrive this week.

As she walks the 6.2-mile course, which starts and ends in Central Park, Goldstein said she feels inspired by all the people, especially the younger ones, who have taken up the cause, too. She also thinks about her dear friend.

“I think she’d be very happy that we’ve come a long way and that I’m still keeping my promise,” she said. “I know we’re still far from a cure, but I feel one day there will be one.”

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