Bakersfield AIDS Project launches needle exchange program

Local News

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Despite coming face-to-face with an unrelenting pandemic, members of the Bakersfield AIDS Project said they still have a mission to save lives. 

The people they are helping aren’t COVID-19 patients but rather, a population faced with another silent killer. 

“It’s really hard when you can identify your child in that face,” Cindy Valverde, a volunteer with The Bakersfield AIDS Project said. “You can see your neighbor, your loved one, your coworker.” 

As the world is faced with a new, yet foreign sense of normalcy, others may still be fighting an old, relentless battle. 

“Sometimes people do this to belong to something,” Audrey Chavez, President of the Bakersfield AIDS Project said. “So when they lose each other it’s like any of us when we lose someone, it hurts.”

The battle for some people, points to drug addiction. 

However, Chavez said the issue doesn’t solely reside in Kern’s homeless population. 

“A drug user isn’t just a homeless person and every homeless person isn’t a criminal,” Chavez said. “There is always more to the story, more to the individual.”

Stories some people may not understand. Yet, Chavez and a group of volunteers said understanding may not be a part of the solution but instead, a willingness to help may be instead. 

“Something we know that data shows is that it makes a difference,” Chavez said. “It helps reduce that risk in their lives and live, and that’s what we want. We want harm reduction and we deserve that and we see that it works in other areas and we need that for Kern County.”

The assistance starts with a state funded program called The Exchange.

Every Saturday, Chavez and volunteers hand out harm prevention kits full of needles, sharps containers, naloxone and other resources. 

“We give every single one of them a naloxone kit,” Chavez said. “So they are able to take them back to their communities and use them.” 

While Kern County has yet to fund a needle exchange program, Chavez said the Bakersfield AIDS Project moved forward with their own means to assist those in need. 

The Exchange is a program Chavez said doesn’t encourage addiction but instead, provides those struggling with the resources and care that might inspire a path toward recovery. 

“It is still that same person,” Chavez said. “They are still our children, they are still our parents, they are still our family members, our classmates, [so we have] to meet them where they’re at.”

The Exchange was launched six months ago. 

Volunteers with The Exchange meet every Saturday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Weill Park. 

Chavez said all volunteers are taught to train users on how to administer naloxone. 

The project was launched in October 2019.

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