Holiday gift-giving can often lack heartfelt meaning, but Martha Rhodes touched her friends with a special gift this year.

On Saturday — World AIDS Day — Rhodes sponsored a table at the Lowcountry AIDS Services ninth annual Shopping with Friends event and invited them to join her for a brunch and an afternoon of shopping at some of the 87 local stores and restaurants pledging to donate 10 percent of Saturday’s proceeds to the charity.

“This was the first year I’ve done this and I couldn’t have thought of a better gift than to support the cause and spend time with my friends,” said Rhodes.

They were among the near-capacity 200 who participated in the brunch and auction at The Riviera Theater on King Street on Saturday.

Lowcountry AIDS Services Executive Director Bradley Childs said the event is critical in raising money to help pay for services, including education, case management, testing and counseling, for local people suffering with AIDS.

“We couldn’t do it without the support of our friends and sponsors,” said Childs.

Shopping with Friends Committee Chairperson Nancy Bush added, “We help many people who are unable to help themselves.”

The services are needed more than ever, according to Lowcountry AIDS Services volunteer Mark Gray.

“People are still believing the street myths that there’s a cure for AIDS and what we’re still in is an uptick in AIDS in the younger generation, ages 17 to 28, again,” said Gray, noting the ease of “anonymous hook-ups” via Craigslist, Facebook and other Internet sites.

Gray said the AIDS support community is having to retool the way it spreads awareness for the younger generation and the age of social media, specifically noting the need for similar-age peer educators.

“You don’t see the deaths from AIDS that you used to, but this is still a terrible and expensive disease to have,” said Gray, noting that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated the cost at $400,000 per new case.

Besides an auction that featured trips to the Kentucky Derby and The Grammys, the event honored several locals with Red Ribbon Spirit Awards. Among them were Volunteer of the Year Tamara Bolding, Employee of the Year Jill Barnes, Spirit Award Winner Vanessa Goodwin, Community Advocate Carolyn Murray and Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Frank McCann.