Dining Out for Life to benefit Aliveness Project

Diners at the bar and restaurant Lush participate in the annual Dining Out for Life event, which benefits The Aliveness Project, a Kingfield-based AIDS service organization. Photo by Sherman Ford

More than 130 restaurants across the Twin Cities will donate at least a portion of their profits on April 26 to The Aliveness Project, a Kingfield-based AIDS service organization.

The restaurants will participate in annual Dining Out for Life event, a national fundraiser for AIDS service organizations such as The Aliveness Project. The Minneapolis event is one of 60 around the U.S., said Jennifer Dieter, the organization’s development director.

“We look at it not just as a way to make money but as a way to raise awareness,” she said.

The Aliveness Project was founded in 1985 by people living with HIV/AIDS who were looking for a place to come together and share food, Dieter said. It has grown into an organization that serves over 1,900 people with HIV/AIDS each year, providing them with HIV testing, scratch-cooked meals, groceries, medical nutrition therapy and case management, all for no cost.

The organization also provides members with integrative therapies such as acupuncture and massage, health and wellness workshop and activities such as trivia and storytelling workshops. Its goal, Dieter said, is to help its members develop a support system.

“It’s a place to be vulnerable,” she said. “It’s a home for some people.”

HIV was first reported in the U.S. in the early ’80s, and by 1985 about 420,000 people were living with the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 1982, there have been 11,309 cases of HIV/AIDS reported to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The number of new HIV diagnosis in Minnesota has remained steady at approximately 300 per year, according to MDH. There were more than 8,550 people living with HIV/AIDS in Minnesota at the end of 2016, and there are about 3,314 people living with HIV/AIDS in Minneapolis.

Poverty, housing struggles

Dieter said HIV is not a singular issue for people with the virus, noting that many also struggle with poverty and food and housing insecurity. She also said that there’s still a lot of stigma around the disease, particularly among foreign-born populations.

“It’s still an issue, but it doesn’t need to be an issue,” she said.

Minnesota is a low-incidence state, Dieter said, adding that health officials are pitching efforts to end the HIV epidemic. MDH, for example, notes that antiretroviral therapy can decrease the amount of virus in the bodies of people living with HIV to undetectable levels and that a pre-exposure pill can be taken to prevent infection.

The state Health and Human Services departments submitted their 2018 Minnesota HIV Strategy to the Legislature on Feb. 1, outlining goals of preventing new infections and reducing HIV-related health disparities, among others. The Minneapolis City Council last month signed onto the Fast Track Cities Initiative, which includes the goals of having 90 percent of people living HIV/AIDS aware of their status; having 90 percent of those diagnosed on antiretroviral therapy; and having 90 percent of people on medication achieving viral suppression.

“We are excited to see this strong commitment from the city to stopping new HIV infections and to ensuring that people living with HIV have access to life-saving healthcare and a city free from stigma and discrimination,” Matt Toburen, public policy director for the Minnesota AIDS Project, said in a press release.

10 meals a week

There are seven AIDS service organizations in Minnesota, Dieter said, most of which are based in the Twin Cities. The Aliveness Project is the only congregant dining facility for people living with HIV/AIDS in Minnesota, she said.

The organization serves 10 meals a week and has been introducing more variety into its meals in recent years, Dieter said. She noted new vegetarian and gluten-free options, as well as options for people who don’t eat pork or other specific foods. The organization always has a salad bar and a soup offering.

Dieter said the organization typical raises around $250,000 during Dining Out for Life and is hoping to raise $260,000 this year. She estimated that about 40,000 people dine out on that day and said that about 75 percent know that the Dining Out for Life event is happening.

“We show a holistic approach to what the Aliveness Project does,” she said, noting that volunteer ambassadors talk to diners about the organization.

Restaurateur Kim Bartmann said she has supported Dining Out for Life since the event’s inception back in the ’90s. Bartmann said that when the AIDS crisis first started, she worked in a large restaurant that was entirely gay men in the kitchen and on the floor.

Bartmann noted that AIDS has become much more than a GLBT issue but said the GLBT community continues to do a lot of fundraising and support in that area.

“AIDS hasn’t gone away, and so that’s why I think it’s still very important to support that event and the work that The Aliveness Project does,” she said.

Six businesses will be donating 100 percent of their profits from April 26 to the Aliveness Project. Those are: Twin Cities Leather & Latte, The Saloon, LUSH, L’etoile du Nord, The Finnish Bistro and Eagle Bolt Bar. To view the complete list of participating restaurants, visit diningoutforlifemn.org.

If you go:

What: Dining Out for Life, an annual fundraiser for The Aliveness Project, an AIDS service organization based in Kingfield.

When: Thursday, April 26

Where: Restaurants across the Twin Cities and Minnesota. Visit diningoutforlifemn.org to see the complete list.