Dining Out For Life

Tony Tonnochy works the front desk at the AIDS Service Association of Pinellas office in St. Petersburg every Tuesday. A volunteer at ASAP for eight years this month, Tony will be a Dining Out for Life volunteer ambassador at Backfin Blue Café in Gulfport on April 28.

Tony Tonnochy works the front desk at the AIDS Service Association of Pinellas office in St. Petersburg every Tuesday. A volunteer at ASAP for eight years this month, Tony will be a Dining Out for Life volunteer ambassador at Backfin Blue Café in Gulfport on April 28.

Twenty-four years ago in Philadelphia, an ActionAids volunteer created Dining Out for Life to support a local organization providing services to those affected by HIV/AIDS by asking local restaurants to donate a percentage of sales on a designated day. The idea caught on, and other cities across North America began to participate. Today, Dining Out For Life has expanded to 60 cities throughout the US and Canada with over 3,000 restaurants donating a portion of their proceeds for this one special day of dining to the licensed AIDS service agency in their city. With the exception of the annual licensing fee, all money raised in a city stays local.

“Dining Out for Life is usually held the last Thursday of April, but this year Orlando is participating for the first time under our license,” said J. Aller, the resource development manager for the AIDS Service Association of Pinellas (ASAP). “So, the 2015 Tampa Bay/Orlando Dining Out for Life will be held on a Tuesday this year, April 28, to better accommodate area restaurants.”

So far, 61 restaurants across the Tampa Bay area – with more being added daily – have committed to the event to help fund ASAP’s programs which include counseling, testing, education and case management. The main office is located at 3050 1st Ave. S. in St. Petersburg, with branches in Clearwater and Tampa. Aller, who began as a volunteer at ASAP in 2003 and was hired by the organization in 2011, also manages the yearly AIDS Walk, this year scheduled for Saturday, September 12. Another popular program hosted by the organization is Brighter Seasons for Children, which provides families and children in Pinellas County affected by HIV/AIDS with holiday food packages, a holiday party, gift distribution and a spring picnic. The program also distributes backpacks loaded with school supplies at the beginning of each school year.

Dining Out for Life has become one of the association’s most popular – and profitable – charitable events. To participate in Dining Out for Life, a restaurant donates at least 25 percent – or more if the restaurant chooses – of proceeds during breakfast, lunch or dinner to ASAP to fund all programs. Not only are restaurant owners generously contributing to the event, about 45 percent of diners donate additional funds via mail or to roving ambassadors on hand at participating restaurants on the day of the event. In 2014, the Tampa Bay Dining Out for Life raised $44,000.

Since Dining Out for Life is on a Tuesday, the Gulfport Merchants Association (GMA) plans to promote the event at the Tuesday Fresh Market on April 28. A list of participating Gulfport restaurants will be available. Some Fresh Market vendors will also donate a percentage of their proceeds that day. Last year, every restaurant in Gulfport participated in the event and they are on target to repeat that generosity this year.

“Dining Out for Life is very near and dear to our hearts,” said Lori Rosso, president of the Gulfport Merchants Association. “We try to get every restaurant in town involved and make sure everyone is aware of it. We also help volunteer to be ambassadors to the different restaurants as GMA members.”

“I am thankful to the community for being so supportive each year,” said Aller. “The event would be impossible to do without volunteers.”

To find a participating restaurant, go to diningoutforlife.org. For information about AIDS Service Association of Pinellas, visit asapservices.org.

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