For three decades, Action Wellness, one of Pennsylvania’s largest AIDS service organizations, has put together a delicious fundraiser that both helps its mission, and gets people into local restaurants to help support a meaningful cause. Last year, Action’s Dining Out For Life event incorporated more than 100 area restaurants who donated 33% of their food sales to Action Wellness, AIDS Delaware and Camden Area Health Education Center, Inc. to help people living with and affected by HIV in the Delaware Valley.
“Dining Out For Life is now an international event, but it was something that was started by a volunteer in Philadelphia for Action Aids at the time in 1991,” says Sarah Delaurentis, Director of Development and Communications for Action Wellness. “It really started with restaurants because restaurant owners were starting to go to more funerals for their staff than anything else, so they wanted to be able to provide support and remember those who had passed. It started with less than ten restaurants and now we have close to 150 restaurants that participate in a normal year. We use that to be able to continue our programs and services for people living with HIV in the area.”
2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the event, and this year would have featured over 150 area restaurants on Thursday, April 30. However, due to the current circumstances surrounding COVID-19, Action Wellness—like many other organizations—has had to shift its event to cater to social distancing. So, Dining Out For Life has become Dining In For Life.
“We moved the event to be virtual, what that means is we’re asking people to participate by ordering take-out from our Dining Out For Life restaurants and then donating to us at actionwellness.org,” adds Delaurentis. “The fundraising from this event normally comes from a 33% donation the day of the event [from the restaurants] in addition to individual donations that are collected at the restaurants from our ambassadors, which are volunteers that represent Action Wellness.We’ve been working with a lot of the restaurants for many years, some of them over ten years, so we wanted to find a way where we could support our partner restaurants but not ask a donation from them—obviously, that’s just not something we can do.”
Philadelphians still have a chance to become a virtual ambassador and an opportunity to make an impact. With technology, the internet and social media, people are still finding ways to connect to create a wave of graciousness, and Action Wellness is hoping the new concept for Dining In For Life will still spark the act of giving this time around.
“For virtual ambassadors, the main components of this hasn’t changed much, only you’re not going to be there in person,” says Delaurentis. “A virtual ambassador is really a peer-to-peer fundraiser that each of our ambassadors can do. You have your own fundraising page, and you can use that to reach out to your co-workers, your family, your friends and solicit donations—it’s a way that we’re engaging our volunteers that would have still been ambassadors in the restaurants to raise money. One thing that we definitely put out there for our ambassadors is to think of it as our 30th anniversary and reach out to 30 people in your network and ask them to each donate $30. It’s something pretty simple, pretty easy and you can do it via your social media or email.”
It’s no secret that there is plenty going on right now to occupy most people’s minds. However, many organizations like Action Wellness have still found ways to help those in need despite the extra barriers now added by the coronavirus. Funds raised through this event will be vital to the nonprofit organization and help them continue life-saving programming including medical case management, a range of health screenings including HIV testing, treatment as prevention, prevention education, supportive housing and volunteer services.
“This was a really difficult decision for us but one obviously that we had to make,” says Delaurentis. “This event was born in a pandemic to address HIV, and I think it’s that strength that has kept this organization going for over 30 years and that’s what we’re hoping will help carry us through in terms of this event as well. Those living with HIV and our clients need our support now more than ever.”
Philadelphians interested in participating can head to Action Wellness’ website actionwellness.org to sign up to become a virtual ambassador and to check out the list of participating restaurants. If you aren’t able to participate in Dining In For Life on Thursday, April 30, you can also still make a donation to help support Action Wellness through this difficult time.