Dining Out for Life returns to Tampa Bay for 13th year

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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ABOVE: EPIC Executive Director Joy Winheim

Tampa | The annual HIV/AIDS fundraiser Dining Out for Life (DOFL) will return to Tampa Bay for the 13th time on April 26 to benefit Empath Partners in Care, or EPIC.

Founded in 1991, DOFL takes place in over 60 cities throughout the United States and Canada. Over 3,000 restaurants donate a portion of their proceeds from the day of dining to licensed AIDS service agencies across North America.

“It’s just an exceptional organization,” national spokesperson and actress Pam Grier says. “I’m very proud to help get the message out. Some restaurants will offer 10 percent, 20 percent, some will give their entire day’s take which is extraordinary. When you dine, you are educating others and saving lives.

“You know some people don’t like to be preached to,” she asserts, “so eat, drink wine, have a couple desserts. I’ll be at a participating restaurant and I’ll smile and say, ‘if you order another bottle of wine and some more desserts you will be assisting in fighting HIV/AIDS, people will be given jobs, given apartments, and educating communities.’ I do the whole thing, I’m singing and dancing… and they end up ordering more. Everybody wins. So far I haven’t been hit by any rolls or buns.”

“It’s a great fundraiser for us,” EPIC Executive Director Joy Winheim says. “It was hosted under ASAP previously, the AIDS Services Association of Pinellas. ASAP merged with Francis House in Tampa and we became EPIC. Under the EPIC name, this will be our second year… but it’s been 13 for the agency as a whole.”

Nearly 30 Tampa Bay restaurants are scheduled to participate this year, with the potential for more to join. “We raised over $43,000 last year,” Winheim recalls. “If you think about it, some of these restaurants are giving us 20 percent of their food sales, so they’re not sending us checks for $10,000. It really does add up, and the restaurants are the most important part… if we don’t have their support then it’s not successful.”

Aside from raising funds, she says, the event allows EPIC to raise awareness about their organization and community offerings. From their three locations in Tampa Bay, they provide HIV services including case management, counseling and pharmacy services. “It’s fun for us because we get to go out to these restaurants to see the support in person, talk to everybody that’s dining and share our stories about EPIC, our clients and how much we love working here.

“We talk about HIV fundraising a lot,” Winheim says. “If we think about HIV fundraising 20 or 30 years ago, and HIV fundraising now, it looks very different. As the disease has progressed, or the advancements in treating the disease have progressed, it has become less of a death sentence.”

Still, she notes, “things like this are an important way to say we’re still here and we’re still fighting. People are still affected, and it might be different than it was 30 years ago but we still need to talk about it. We still need to let people know that we’re here for them.”

For a list of this year’s participating restaurants or to learn how to participate as a restaurant or an ambassador for EPIC, visit dineTB.org or myepic.org.

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