Ray is one of the local coordinators for Gulfport and South Pasadena. He will also serve as an ambassador at Pia’s Trattoria, which is participating for the dinnertime meal. Faun Weaver is the other local coordinator for this year.
At least one ambassador is stationed at each participating restaurant to help explain to patrons what the special day is all about. They also give people envelopes and encourage them donate further to the cause.
“Typically, well over half of the diners will write a check or give cash” as an additional donation, said Ray.
In Gulfport, “almost everybody is dining out for this specific fundraising event and they will tell you so,” said Ray. He and his husband Wesley Ray have been ambassadors at Pia’s for about four years. “No other local places have the percentage of involvement that we have in Gulfport.”
Tampa Bay’s 2018 event has been named “Epic Eats” while everywhere else it’s known by the traditional registered trademark, “Dining Out for Life.” Publicity for the local effort is organized by the beneficiary, Empath Partners in Care or EPIC, a member of the Empath Health group.
Visit DineTB.org and search by city and state or ZIP Code for a list of specific eateries, the meals they will be including and the percentage of proceeds they will be donating to the fundraiser. Donations are typically 25 percent but can vary from a flat fee to 100 percent. The event is organized so that all local monies go to local HIV/AIDS organizations.
According to EPIC’s publicity poster, names of restaurants will be added to the online list up to April 25.
In 2017, over 1,000 people dined out for this cause in the Tampa Bay area, according to the Empath Health event website. Eateries in the area have been participating in the event for 13 years. Across the US and Canada, more than 60 cities are a part of the effort. In 2016, more than $36,000 was raised in the Bay area; in 2017, the amount was over $43,000.
“It’s a great fundraiser for us,” said EPIC Executive Director Joy Winheim in a Watermark news story dated April 5, 2018. “It was hosted under the AIDS Services Association of Pinellas (ASAP) previously. ASAP merged with Francis House in Tampa and we became EPIC. Under the EPIC name, this will be our second year but it’s been 13 for the agency as a whole.”
For more information about the Gulfport and South Pasadena events, call Ray at 727-698-9847. On April 26, the Gulfport Merchants Association and the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce are donating the use of the Gulfport Welcome Center as an organizational hub, said Ray. The center is located at 3101 Beach Boulevard, Suite 1.
Correction: An earlier version of this article, and the one that appeared in print, stated that the 2017 Dining Out for Life event raised $25,000 in the Bay area. According to Sarah Varga, Marketing & Communications Manager at Empath Health, the 2017 event raised over $43,000 locally.