NEWPORT BEACH — For Joanne Baker's 50th birthday, she asked for $500,000.
It wasn't for her, but for donations to children in South Africa affected by AIDS.
What the Hoag Hospital OR charge nurse got in 2001 was $35,000, but that was more than enough to fuel her fledgling nonprofit, Tias Arms, and provide financial support to multiple small organizations in KwaZulu-Natal.
The province located on South Africa's eastern coast is not only Baker's birthplace, but also "ground zero" for the country's growing AIDS epidemic, she said.
"The thousands of children being left orphaned were astronomical," Baker said, adding that child-headed households are so common in South Africa that they're recognized by the government as a population category.
About 1.8 million children have been left orphaned because of AIDS, she said.
Now celebrating its 10th year, Tias Arms has raised more than $385,000 and serves hundreds of children in KwaZulu-Natal, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth areas. Baker hopes to see donations reach $500,000 by her 60th birthday in January, she said.
"South Africa is so far away that you don't see what's happening on a daily basis — but when you see those statistics, you have to help," said Marie Stout, a Tias Arms volunteer and preschool teacher. "Every little bit helps and each dollar really adds up."
"One Starbucks coffee is worth a week of food for a kid," she added.
Tias Arms supports multiple clinics, hospices, shelters and women's groups — all of which have women and children affected in various ways by AIDS, Baker said.
For one child or caretaker, the nonprofit can provide high-calorie meals for 50 cents a day, school supplies for $100 a year, and salaries to caretakers for $250 a month, she said.
"What's incredible about this is that you can see fundamental changes with so little money," Baker said. "When a child says to you, 'I want to be a nurse when I grow up,' or a dentist or a policeman, and they know what they want to be, they show a sense of belonging to the community … these children can live in the most dire of circumstances, yet they are so close to joy that we can learn so much."
The organization hosts its annual fundraiser luncheon and auction May 15 at Chapman University in Orange, where in 2008 it was awarded the Albert Schweitzer Award of Excellence.
The event will feature both live and silent auctions, including the opportunity to bid on a date with Hoag surgeon Dr. Todd Harris, whose first time on auction raised $14,000 last year, Baker said.
"We are 10 years old, and it would not be if not for the shared belief system and the support of those at the hospital and in the community," Baker said.
If You Go
What: Tias Arms 10th Anniversary Celebration
When: 1 to 4 p.m. May 15
Where: Chapman University, Beckman Hall, 1 University Drive, Orange
Tickets: $30 for lunch, $15 without lunch