Area residents who are hungry to support a local charity need not do more than visit one of 11 local restaurants participating in this year's Dining Out For Life fundraiser.
Dining Out For Life is a national program that is held in 60 cities across North America. In Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, the event will be held on Tuesday.
According to Laurie L Matson, director of the Southern Tier branch of Evergreen Health Services, Dining Out For Life is an annual fundraiser that began in Philadelphia in1991 with the purpose of raising funds to provide services to those living with HIV and AIDS.
The annual Dining Out For Life fundraising event will be held at area restaurants across Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties on Tuesday.
"The concept is simple, diners choose a participating restaurant, make a reservation for the night of the event and enjoy their dinner, hopefully with several of their friends," said Matson. "The restaurant will then donate at least 25 percent of all of their food sales from the day."
Regionally, the event began in 2003 via the Evergreen Health Services' main office in Buffalo. The Southern Tier Services office, a satellite office in Jamestown, got involved in 2004 with three participating restaurants.
"Since that time the number of participating restaurants has steadily grown, and to date those restaurants and their diners have helped to raise almost $75,000 for services in the Southern Tier," said Matson.
This year the Southern Tier has 11 restaurants participating across Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties. In Jamestown, both Alfie's, which has always contributed 50 percent of their food sales, and Forte have participated in the event since its inception. Alfie's will donate funds from lunch and dinner, while Forte will for dinner.
Also returning are: Hometown Grill, donating for lunch and dinner; House of Petillo, dinner; Labyrinth Press Company, lunch and dinner; Jones 212 Bakery and Cafe, breakfast and lunch; and Sky Bar will be offering late-night Dining Out For Life drink specials. EBC West is returning to the event in Fredonia with lunch and dinner, as is Patria at the Seneca Allegany Casino in Cattaraugus County for dinner. Two new restaurants have also joined the program including Andriaccio's in Mayville with dinner and Harbor Grill in Celoron with dinner.
The importance of the program stems from a need to continue building awareness of HIV and AIDS, said Matson.
"People don't talk so much about HIV and AIDS anymore, and I think this gives people a false sense that it is no longer a problem," said Matson. "However, it is estimated that nearly 8,000 families in WNY have someone living with or are at high risk for HIV and AIDS. Here in our Southern Tier office we are providing services to approximately 120 people infected, as well as their families across Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties. Not to mention prevention services in conjunction with our HIV rapid testing program."
The ability of Evergreen Health Services to provide such assistance depends on grants and funding from New York state as well as fundraising from events such as Dining Out For Life.
One of the event tag lines is: "The most satisfying meal you'll ever eat," and Matson believes those who have participated would agree, she said. Another tagline is, "All you have to donate is your appetite."
Each restaurant will be staffed with volunteers, who are also known as ambassadors. They will be on-hand to offer answers to any questions participants may have, as well as greet each customer.
"An ambassador's No. 1 task is to welcome and thank every diner for coming out to support Dining Out For Life," said Matson. "Ambassadors are also quite good at answering any questions concerning the event and the agency. If they don't know, they will be happy to offer contact information to our office. Some ambassadors also tend to have a few surprises as well. They are a friendly bunch, and yes, we could always use a few more friendly faces."
SUPPORTING A GOOD CAUSE
Area residents have plenty of opportunities to enjoy a tasty meal and support a good cause.
According to John Calamunci, owner of Hometown Grill, a restaurant that has participated in several years of the program, he decided to join the celebration as a way to connect with the community.
"We believe it is a great cause, and we saw the community response to the event, so we wanted to be a part of it," said Calamunci. "We strive to be a fabric of the community, and help community organizations, so it fits in perfectly with what we do. I think people who attend the event come away with the feeling that they've contributed to a good cause while having a fun night out with a good meal. And, we usually pull quite a few people in."
Jim Wise, Sr. vice president of marketing for Seneca Allegany Casino, said Patria got involved a couple years ago because it's a great opportunity that encourages people to get out and enjoy themselves while a terrific charity sees a benefit.
"Talk about one of the few no-lose situations that are out there - this is clearly one of them," said Wise. "Plus, it builds some awareness. It's different than just writing a check for a cause. And, it's a great way to build a partnership. So, we're excited to work with them again."
Carrie Gifford, a manager at Andriacco's, said the restaurant got involved this year for the first time because it is family friendly and community-oriented, so when she saw what a good cause the event was, she quickly got on board.
"When a restaurant decides to join Dining Out For Life, they are taking a bit of a leap of faith," said Matson. "But, when they come back I hope they do so because we have done the best job for them. We thank them for coming on board, for serving great meals to our diners, and giving great service while helping out a worthy local agency. We cannot thank them enough, but the community can by continuing to patronize them all year-round."