On Thursday, April 27, diners in Gulfport and throughout the Tampa Bay area can do just that by participating in Dining Out for Life (DOFL), one of the most anticipated outreach events of the year. This one special day of dining and fellowship began over 25 years ago in Philadelphia, and has expanded to more than 60 cities throughout the US and Canada with over 3,000 restaurants donating a portion of their proceeds to the licensed AIDS service agency in their city.
As has been the case in years past, every Gulfport restaurant is on track to participate.
“Mangia participates in this great event every year. It’s not a difficult decision,” said Scott Linde, president of the Gulfport Merchants Association and co-owner of Mangia Gourmet. “I’m very proud as a citizen, a business owner and president of the GMA that we get such a high level of participation from Gulfport restaurants.”
To participate in Dining Out for Life, a restaurant donates at least 25 percent – or more if the restaurant chooses – of proceeds generated during breakfast, lunch or dinner. In addition, approximately 45 percent of diners donate additional funds via mail or to roving ambassadors on hand at participating restaurants. With the exception of the annual licensing fee, all money raised in a city stays local.
In Gulfport, Paul Ray, Greg Stemm and Faun Weaver are the coordinators, recruiting and training local volunteer ambassadors, who are then assigned to participating businesses the day of the event. Ambassadors at Gulfport restaurants are Gulfport residents.
“Although the participating restaurants donate a percentage of each diner’s check to the DOFL effort, we also encourage diners to make donations as well. Gulfport diners respond in an amazing fashion every year with donation checks already made out,” said Paul Ray, who will be a volunteer ambassador at Pia’s Trattoria this year. “After a diner is seated, the ambassador approaches each table, greeting the diners and explains the purpose of the DOFL event. Any questions can be answered, and donations can be made directly to the ambassador or left on the table to be collected.”
In the Tampa Bay area, proceeds will go to the newly-formed Empath Partners in Care (EPIC), a member of Empath Health, a nonprofit integrated network of care supporting those challenged by chronic and advanced illness. This new organization brings together the nearly 60 years of combined HIV services experience of AIDS Service Association of Pinellas (ASAP) and Francis House. The organization is now able to provide even more services to more people impacted by HIV and AIDS, offering medical care, counseling, support and prevention services at the ASAP and Francis House campuses and other locations in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
“We’ve joined forces to cross the Bay,” said Brooke Boccacino, director of philanthropic giving at Empath Health. “We are now able to provide more services for more people.”
So far, many restaurants across the Bay area, with more being added daily up until April 27, have committed to the event. Dining Out for Life has become one of the organization’s most popular – and profitable – campaigns.
“Last year, Dining Out for Life raised $40,000 from restaurants, sponsors and additional donations,” said Boccacino.
Volunteer ambassadors are still needed due to the high volume of diners expected at Gulfport restaurants.
“Breakfast, lunch and dinner shifts are available at various establishments,” said Ray. “Anyone wanting to be involved in this fun and worthwhile event is welcome. I love that Gulfport goes way overboard each year. People are just so ready to give.”
To find a participating restaurant, go to diningoutforlife.com/tampabay/restaurants/ or find Dining Out for Life Gulfport Florida on Facebook. To volunteer, call Paul Ray at 727-698-9847 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.