Give back to the community while grabbing some great grub with your family and friends during this year’s 26th Annual Dining Out For Life (DOFL).
To get involved, diners simply dine out at one or more of the over 100 participating restaurants of their choice on Thursday, May 2, and a portion of proceeds, ranging from 25 to 50 percent, benefit St. Louis Effort For AIDS (EFA). EFA is a nonprofit offering comprehensive support services to people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.
“As long as you’re at a participating restaurant you don’t have to do anything but dine out,” says James Lesch, Director of Development for EFA. “Your bill automatically gives back to the organization. There will be a volunteer on-site to discuss the impact our organization has on the community, DOFL, and how to give back/contribute in more ways.”
During the 25th anniversary of the event last year, more than 115 area restaurants participated, raising over $150,000 to benefit EFA.
“It’s a success because you build your own Dining Out For Life experience each year,” Lesch says. “It’s whatever you’re in the mood for that evening: from beer and barbecue to steak and fine dining, and everything in between, as long as you mark your calendar, it’s not a huge commitment to plan weeks in advance.”
Dining Out For Life happens every year in 50 cities across the country. Last year, St. Louis took home the Grand Prize at Dining Out For Life’s Annual Impact Awards.
“We’ve been acknowledged as national leaders. It shows St. Louis isn’t just a great food destination but we have a great sense of community, too,” Lesch says. “In February we did a photo shoot in St. Louis and the images are being used in the national marketing campaign for Dining Out For Life this year. It really makes us proud our fundraiser is not only raising money for a great cause but also allowing us to showcase our food scene on a national level. There’s a lot of civic pride here.”
Although Dining Out For Life is one of EFA’s largest annual fundraisers, it originally began as a small dinner party.
“In the early days of the AIDS crisis, people would get together for dinner and pass the hat around at the end of the meal to collect donations,” Lesch says.
“These parties eventually grew too large for someone’s home, so it moved to a restaurant. One restaurant became two and so on, and now over 100 restaurants participate across the city.”
“All the money raised in St. Louis stays in St. Louis. How much we raise depends on how many people dine out the night of the event, so don’t just mark your calendar, invite your friends, too. We also recommend making reservations as some establishments end up booked for the entire night.”
While the event has evolved over the years, so has the scope of its mission.
“Originally our agency was founded with the intent of helping people die with dignity; that’s all we could do. Fast forward to today and we’re able to ensure people at risk are practicing safer sex, and people who are infected can live longer, healthier lives,” Lesch says. “Fifty percent of people living with HIV in St. Louis are not actively engaged in care, and we are on a mission to close that gap. With modern treatment, we can ensure our clients live long, healthy lives. But that’s only if they are brought into care and stay in care. To that end, we have more clients than ever which underscores the importance of vital funding that events like Dining Out For Life provides.”
All funds raised from these restaurants stay in St. Louis and fund the mission of St. Louis Effort for AIDS. The agency recently stepped up its game in regards to caring for those in need in our community.
“In September, we merged with the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, allowing us to expand our services to an HIV Medical Home model of care,” Lesch says. “We moved to a new location in January with an on-site pharmacy and medical clinic. We’re providing a service that’s a one-stop shop for people who are at risk or currently have HIV or AIDS.”