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A Taste For Life continues to grow

Vital fundraiser a local favourite

"IT'S ALL GOOD." Café Paradiso owner Alex Demianenko has listed his contemporary, jazz-tinged restaurant since the event's inception. Credit: Pat Croteau

Like it says in the ad, mark your calendars and make some reservations, folks. On Wed, Apr 26, the annual wine-and-dine Ottawa AIDS fundraiser A Taste For Life will be bustling at more than 40 hot spots throughout the city.

For one very important night, restaurants that have joined the cause will donate 25 percent of their food and beverage totals to Bruce House and the Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation in support of their mandate to care for those in Ottawa suffering from the disease.

“Every year has seen an increase in involvement,” says Bruce House development officer Martha Scott. “It’s fun because the restaurants are altered; each one takes on its own personality.”

When asked what demographic makes up most of the 3,000-person event, Scott says “everybody.” She predicts more than $50,000 will be raised..

Ottawa’s mid-week celebration of goodwill towards people living with AIDS began with a much shorter roster of eateries back in 1998, and now lists establishments from Centretown, the Byward Market, Little Italy and points further south, east and west that want to get in on the festivities.

Café Paradiso owner Alex Demianenko has listed his contemporary, jazz-tinged restaurant since the event’s inception, and for the past three years has had the night booked to capacity by Richard Mahoney’s Liberals.

“We’ve been able to raise good funds in here,” he says. “AIDS is an important issue. Martha (Scott) and the gang over there are great people. It’s all good.”

The original fundraiser was held in Philadelphia (called Dining Out For Life), and since bringing the idea to the capital, Bruce House has sparked A Taste For Life nights in 10 regions across Ontario. In Toronto, Fife House has increased participation to 73 restaurants for 2006.

“Our goal is to raise approximately $64,000 this year,” says Fife House special events and development coordinator Tracy Morley. “A Taste For Life is a key fundraiser.”

Smaller cities like Peterborough only began hosting the event last year and have just a handful of restaurants joining in, but for clients of the services, of course, every bit counts.

As Scott explains, there hasn’t been a government funding increase in many years for AIDS organizations. In the case of a front-line operation like Bruce House, which provides palliative care if needed but also counselling and housing support, government subsidy programs routinely pass the buck.

“It depends who you’re talking to,” she explains. “If it’s somebody from social programs, we’re a health issue; if it’s someone from health, we’re social programs.”

Bruce House executive director Jay Koornstra notes that Health Canada lists social and physical environments among their determinants of health, yet grassroots operations like his have to deal with the complexities at the municipal level. “Some see it as a housing issue, some as a health issue,” he says. “I like to think that housing and health are intrinsically related, like income and poverty.”

The result is basically mean living for administrators and clients, and huge efforts in fundraising. In Bruce House’s case, fundraising accounts for 40 percent of their annual budget.