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Taste for Life gears up for 10th anniversary

Winning formula, renewed urgency

Taste for Life, one of Ottawa’s biggest AIDS fundraisers, will be celebrating a bittersweet 10th anniversary on April 23.

The outpouring of community support for the event makes it a dependable draw. More than 40 restaurants will donate 25 percent of their gross income for the night to fund HIV and AIDS programs.

But this Taste for Life will be different. After stagnant government funding for much of the last decade, AIDS support groups are dealing with federal cuts to the tune of 30 percent this year.

“With government funding depleting and more requests for help coming in, there aren’t enough resources to meet everyone’s needs,” said Lise Turpin of the Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation and one the founding members of Taste for Life.

The event got started in 1998 and is collaboratively run by Bruce House and the Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation. Over the past decade, it has snowballed in size, raising over $70,000 dollars last year for the two organizations’ HIV prevention, research and assisted living programs.

Anyone in Ottawa can take part in Taste for Life — it’s as easy as booking a table at one of the participating restaurants, whetting your appetite and paying the bill.

The organizers have found that the event’s simple format has boosted its success in the community.

“It’s easy because you’re not buying a ticket or going out of your way. You can just have dinner with your family and it makes a difference,” said Turpin. “Being able to have 4,000 people out on one night is amazing. We couldn’t have done it if we had to get a hall or throw a gala, and it means there’s more money for the programs.”

The event is popular with restaurant owners too, as Taste for Life assigns volunteer hosts who make sure to bring enough friends and family to fill each restaurant to capacity for two sittings.

“They realize it’s a great opportunity to fill their restaurant with people who might not have eaten there before on a night that’s usually not busy,” says Craig Hinman, the volunteer and special events coordinator at Bruce House. “But more than that, it’s a huge donation, 25 percent, and very heartfelt. Some of the servers have even given us their tips.”

Hosts also provide envelopes to patrons for any gifts given on top of the cost of the meal. These aren’t mandatory, but are the biggest contributor to the event’s growth.

Bruce House raises nearly half of its budget through donations.

Since Nov 2007, Conservatives have been in the hotseat over HIV funding. That’s when news began to emerge that AIDS research cash was going to come at a cost: cuts to service organizations that help people already living with HIV/AIDS.

“In Canada, someone is infected every two hours, but according to the Conservatives, there is no place for prevention,” Bloc Quebecois MP Christiane Gagnon told the House of Commons Nov 29.

That lack of funding is endangering HIV programs, added NDP MP Olivia Chow.

“In fact, organizations in my riding have come to me and said that they’re laying off staff,” she says. “All the good work they do will stop because of these cuts.”

And that makes Taste for Life all the more relevant.

“The money raised through Taste for Life goes directly to those that are living in the Ottawa area with HIV and AIDS,” says Hinman. “It goes directly to the clients for their daily needs, and it helps us provide a living situation that gives them the respect and compassionate care they need.”