By Enid Vázquez Associate Editor

I’ve never worked in a restaurant, but I’m a people person and have no trouble asking for money for charity. Serving as a TPAN ambassador for Dining Out for Life last night came easily to me.

Dining Out for Life is an annual fundraising event in which participating restaurants and bars donate a percentage of the day’s sales to a local non-profit AIDS service organization. In Chicago, the beneficiary agency was TPAN, the publisher of Positively Aware.

I chose Nookies, a restaurant just a block from TPAN. Great food, comfortable seats, beautiful atmosphere, and a down-home feel. “We’re a neighborhood restaurant,” Nookies host Roberto told me. It showed. He seemed to know the names of half the people who came through the door for dinner.

The first person I approached was a little old lady. Not someone who needed to care much about HIV/AIDS, I thought. Someone Roberto knew by name. I gave her a chance to order her food, then made my approach. 

“Did you know that tonight is Dining Out for Life?” I asked her. No, she said kindly. I told her that just by being here and having dinner, she was helping TPAN because Nookies was generously giving us a portion of all their receipts for food and drinks that night. I told her our agency is just around the corner, about some of the things we do, and that I was leaving an envelope for an extra donation, if she wished. 

I mentioned our free testing for HIV and hepatitis C. 

Our free therapy and case management.

Our new clinic established by Howard Brown Health Center, providing services on a sliding scale so that no one is turned away.

There’s so much more that I didn’t even get to.

She told me her brother had been going to TPAN for a year and that he “loves it.” 

Wow. 

I’m continually amazed at the people we reach and help. 

On her way out, she gave me the envelope with a donation inside.

Many of our clients were dining at Nookies, in  support of TPAN. Some don’t have much money to give. Their meal was their donation. One was having drinks with a friend at the lovely, long bar, but when he heard about Dining Out for Life, he ordered dinner (on his friend’s tab, natch). 

Whether clients or not, nearly everyone was surprised to learn about the new clinic, and very happy about it. 

Towards the middle of dinner, I spoke with a couple of women who came in for dinner. One told me, “I was at TPAN with a friend in 1989. There was almost no help back then.”

For me, that was a magical moment.

“It’s so great to hear that the organization continues progressing,” her friend added.

I should have had a drink and toasted to Christopher Clason, TPAN’s founder.

To me, the heart of TPAN is Chris Clason. He is why we helped people back in 1989, and why we’re still helping people today. Thank you, Chris. I hope that in heaven last night you were enjoying a smorgasbord of all the food we were enjoying here on earth.

Dining Out for Life was so much more than just raising money by eating and drinking. 

It was our chance to let people know that we are here for them and their loved ones.

We’re still here.