With Dining Out for Life once again approaching in a few weeks – on April 30, to be precise – we thought in this milestone 25th anniversary year, we’d offer some background and insights about what has possibly become North America’s leading fundraising event for HIV services. This year, we’re projecting that Dining Out for Life will bring in well over $200,000 for ActionAIDS and our partner organizations across the Delaware Valley and over $4 million across North America.


Thank You, Julie Drizin!

We all have Julie Drizin to thank for inventing Dining Out for Life twenty-five years ago. Back then, Julie was the news director for WXPN-FM radio and a volunteer in the ActionAIDS Buddy program. Julie has gone on to receive numerous awards as a producer of news, public affairs, and talk programming – not to mention being the recipient of the ActionAIDS Friend for Life Award in 2010. Today, she is the Executive Director of theAmerican University School of Communication’s Current, a newspaper and website about public and nonprofit media.

Doing Good by Dining Out

In a recent interview at our offices in Center City, Julie explained that she wanted to create a fundraising event that would have widespreadappeal and accessibility for people who wanted a positive response to the AIDS epidemic and the suffering and loss it was causing. “Something not high end,” she explained, “that would not have too high a barrier for participation in terms of money or effort.” Dining Out for Life, which is premised on the idea that you can help support local HIV services by simply going out to a restaurant for dinner is obviously that type of event. You not only support a local business, you are also making possible that restaurant’s donation to local HIV services. Those donations are typically one-third of each diner’s food bill although many restaurants also include drinks in calculating their donation to the event.

Accessibility has remained an important feature of the event for the past 25 years. As Julie recalled during the early years, there were 30-40 restaurants involved. Today, the event has grown to include more than 200 restaurants in the greater Philadelphia area. We try to recruit restaurants throughout the metropolitan area, and to include a wide range of cuisines and a wide range in menu pricing. Everyone should be able to Dine Out for Life, whether you are a well-heeled corporate lawyer or an art student just starting out.

Dining Out for Life is not just about dinner. The addition of the Food Truck Round Up, now in its third year, makes the event available to a Center City lunch crowd looking for an astonishingly good, yet moderately priced, lunch option. Some options that are exclusively lunch venues areDay by Day and Metropolitan Café, in Center City, and Shorty’s Sunflower Café in Pottstown. Many other restaurants also serve breakfast and lunch as part of the event, like Square 1682and Red Owl Tavern.

Dining Out for Life is supported by many of the City’s leading and most prominent restaurateurs:

In addition, there are dozens of smaller, neighborhood restaurants participating. Dining Out for Life, if nothing else, is emblematic of the vast generosity of the greater Philadelphia restaurant community at all levels.

We’re especially proud of several restaurateurs who have continued to be involved from the very earliest years, including Michael McNally and Terry Berch McNally (London Grill), Weaver Lilley (Friday Saturday Sunday), Roger Halman & Vincent Whittacre (The Gold Standard Café), and Bob Berkowitz (The Venture Inn). This year we’ve also added 20 new restaurants just in Philadelphia, so there are even more choices for diners.

A Thank You to Our Many Volunteers!

Dozens of volunteers make Dining Out for Life the success that it is. This year, the event will involve more than 150 volunteers assisting with publicity, materials preparation and distribution, and event follow up. Among them will be our beloved Ambassadors, who on April 30 will fan out to participating restaurants throughout the area to greet diners, thank them for participating in Dining Out for Life, and invite them to donate to ActionAIDS. Many of our restaurants participate in our 20% Off Tuesdays restaurant discount program, thus providing a keen incentive for diners to make a minimum $25 donation to ActionAIDS.

Going International

After proving its potential as a fundraiser in Philadelphia, ActionAIDS then shared the event concept with other AIDS service organizations to, as Julie put it, “empower AIDS service organizations to take what we’ve done and make it successful for them.” Today, Dining Out for Life takes place in more than 60 cities – from Anchorage, Alaska, to Broward County, Florida – in both the United States and Canada under the auspices of Dining Out for Life International. So even if you’re out of town on April 30, you should look for a participating restaurant wherever you are.

We Want to Share the LOVE

In looking back over the past 25 years, we can’t help but recall all our beloved friends, family members, and co-workers who are no longer with us as a result of this epidemic. We will never forget them. To publicly memorialize them, we have organized “Share the LOVE” – an event one week before Dining Out for Life (Thursday April 23, from 5-7 PM) at Love Park, 15th Street & JFK Boulevard. We will be reading the names of those lost to ActionAIDS and our larger community. This will result in the creation of a permanent memorial at our ActionAIDS office. Please join us, it will not be the same without you.

Dine Out, Fight AIDS!

Remembering the first evening of Dining Out for Life 25 years ago, Julie recalled that “people were in such good spirits that night” and there was truly a “feeling of celebration.” We’ve kept that feeling going for 25 years, and now, when we’re closer than ever to realizing our mission of creating an AIDS-free generation, pleaseJOIN US!

Here’s a map of participating restaurants in the greater Philadelphia area.

Here’s this year’s list of our participating restaurants.

–David W. Webber, Senior Development Specialist, ActionAIDS