Philadelphia’s Dining Out for Life, an annual fundraiser to support people living with HIV, is back in person this year for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic struck.
The event’s success usually relies on people going out to eat. Participating restaurants donate a portion of their sales from that night to Action Wellness, a non-profit that provides health, prevention, and support services to thousands of Philadelphians living with and affected by HIV.
But COVID-19 meant a pause on dining out. Action Wellness encouraged their supporters to get takeout or delivery from participating restaurants, then donate directly to the group.
“We eliminated the portion of the event where restaurants made a contribution back to Action Wellness because we really felt like they’re our partners and they were struggling during COVID,” executive director Kevin Burns said. “The restaurant community in Philadelphia has always been incredibly generous around this event, and it felt good for the last couple of years to do something to support them and give back.”
The shift had a big effect on fundraising. Typically, Dining Out for Life — which first launched in 1991 — brings in around $200,000. For the past two years, that number has dropped to between $40,000 and $50,000, according to Burns.
“We’re hoping this is our comeback year,” he said.
The money raised through the event helps fill gaps that aren’t covered by the government contracts Action Wellness receives, Burns said. That includes the group’s buddy program, which pairs volunteers with clients to provide “practical and emotional support,” from transportation to food shopping.
“I always say it’s the heart and soul of the agency because it’s really about bringing the community together to take care of one another,” Burns said, adding that the program was especially critical during the pandemic, when volunteers stayed connected to clients through phone calls or face-to-face visits once the vaccine became available.
Burns is thrilled to be back in person this year. Dining Out for Life will take place on April 28. There is a list of participating restaurants on the Action Wellness website. People can also make direct donations to the group, or participate in a silent auction.
Though the Dining Out for Life first launched in Philadelphia, it has since expanded across the country. Cities throughout the U.S. and in Canada will be hosting their own fundraisers this month.
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