22nd annual “Dining Out for Life” is tonight, two NW Phila. restaurants are participating

More than 20 years after its debut, the “Dining Out for Life” event is still satisfying Philadelphians’ appetities. 

The popular fundraiser began in the city in 1991, with the participation of 20 restaurants. Now, in its 22nd year, the event takes place in more than 60 cities throughout North America, but its goal remains the same – to raise money for organizations that help men, women, and children living with HIV.

Today, restaurant customers throughout the country will be able to make a difference with one bite. 

“Today, we have close to 200 restaurants throughout the Delaware Valley participating,” said Michael Byrne, the Director of Development at ActionAIDS. “This year, we have more restaurants in Philadelphia than we’ve ever had before, and we’ve got some great ones taking part.”

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One of those restaurants is the Urban Cafe on Rochelle Avenue in Wissahickon.  Pat O’Donnell, affectionately known as “Chef Pat” to the Cafe’s customers, said this is the first year that the restaurant is taking part.  The owner of the nearly two-year old eatery said he can’t think of a greater way to use his gifts to help the cause.

“This is a disease you really want to cure,” O’Donnell said. “I don’t know how to do it, but if my talent for cooking helps another person get closer to discovering how to cure it, I’m on board.”

O’Donnell acknowledges that the current state of the economy makes raising money for HIV support agencies difficult, but he believes that now is the best time for his restaurant to get involved.

“I know that a lot of people are having problems right now; the economy is bad for everybody,” O’Donnell suggested. “A lot of different charities are in bad shape, and these charities probably aren’t getting as much money as they used to get from the government. But you gotta go out and help people.”

Dining Out for Life was the creation of a volunteer at ActionAIDS in 1991, but years later, when the trademark for the Philadelphia-based benefit was sold to Dining Out for Life International, more agencies in different cities in the U.S. decided to produce the event.

“The great thing about Dining Out for Life compared to other national events is that all of the money raised by Dining Out for Life in an individual city stays in that city to help people there living with HIV/AIDS,” Byrne explained. Byrne has headed the development department at ActionAIDS for twelve years, but he’s been a proud supporter of the event since it’s humble beginnings in the 90s.

“The thing I’ve always loved about Dining Out for Life is that it’s an easy event to participate in,” says Byrne. “Who doesn’t like to go out to eat? All you have to do is eat at a participating restaurant, and that restaurant will donate a huge percentage of your food bill.”

Urban Cafe will donate 33 percent of the cost of Thursday night’s meal to AIDS service organizations in Philadelphia. 

The increased number of contributing restaurants offers diners an abundance of choices to consider Thursday night. That’s where the Dining Out for Life smartphone app comes into play. Smartphone users can download the app for free from the Dining Out for Life website onto their phone. The app will determine your current location, then provide a list of the 25 nearest participating restaurants. 

Patrons can also expect to meet volunteers from ActionAIDS at the restaurants they visit. These volunteers serve as ambassadors for the agency, thanking supporters for choosing to bring their business to the restaurant and for helping individuals in the Delaware Valley living with HIV. ActionAIDS has provided services to HIV-positive men, women, and children since 1986, and their commitment to the survivors of the disease is evident in their slogan: “No one should face AIDS alone.” Michael Byrne agrees, and insists that the need for agencies like his is still great.

“It’s not over,” Byrne insisted. “In fact, more and more people become infected with HIV every single day. It’s estimated that one in five people living with HIV has no idea they have it. If you do have HIV, and you get the medical care you need, the chances of you having a full, productive life are very good. Staying unaware of your HIV status can have deadly consequences.”

At the Urban Café, Chef Pat O’Donnell sees Dining Out for Life as an effective way to raise awareness about the cause.

“To me, if you can go out to dinner and have a good time, and in the end say ‘it went to a good cause,’ that’s great.”

The Adobe Cafe in Roxborough is also participating in tonight’s event. 

For more information on the event and a list of participating restaurants, go to Diningoutforlife.com.

Editor’s note: The Urban Cafe is located in the Wissahickon section of Philadelphia, not Manayunk, as previously noted.  The Adobe Cafe is located in Roxborough.  NewsWorks regrets the errors. 

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