Ambassadors Serve Warm Welcome at Dining Out For Life

For eight years, “professional volunteer” JoAnn Morford has brought her community spirit to this one-night event that benefits Desert AIDS Project

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For the past 11 years, Greater Palm Springs has been an active participant in Dining Out For Life, an annual dining fundraiser that raises money for HIV/AIDS services at Desert AIDS Project (DAP).

Participation is easy: To show your support for DAP, simply dine out for breakfast, lunch, or dinner (or all three … plus drinks!) at any of the participating restaurants on April 28. On that day, restaurants will donate between 33 and 100 percent of their sales to DAP.

As with any charitable event, Dining Out For Life would not be possible without its amazing roster of people who donate their time to help make it happen. Palm Springs Life spoke to volunteer extraordinaire JoAnn Morford, who has served as a Dining Out For Life dining ambassador for the past eight years and was honored by Dining Out for Life International and Subaru as their Unsung Hero in 2014.

What was your very first involvement with Dining Out For Life?
“I started contacting restaurants by phone, asking if they would like to participate. This is our 11th year, and we started with 11 restaurants. This year we have over 60 throughout the Coachella Valley, including a first-time restaurant in Indio, Jackalope Ranch, and a first in LaQuinta, Rosita’s Pizza.”

And what will you be doing this year?
“I will be volunteering at Trio Restaurant in Palm Springs for the third time. There’s a group of five of us that always volunteer together. Trio is one of the busiest restaurants that day; they donate 60 percent of your dining and bar tab to Dining Out For Life. Tony (Marchese) and Mark (Van Laanen), the owners, are very generous supporters of DOFL.”

What does being a dining ambassador entail?
“We wear red aprons with DOFL engraved on them. We greet each customer with a big smile and thank them for joining us. We tell them that by eating at Trio on that day they’re helping to provide services to over 2,500 people living with HIV/AIDS in our community who look to Desert AIDS Project to provide food, shelter, and medical and dental care. We then give them an envelope and a pen, in case they want to make an additional donation and register to win several raffle prizes. The prizes are two tickets to the Steve Chase Gala in February 2017, two tickets to the Queen of the Desert competition on June 1 [2016], two tickets to Everyday Heroes on December 1 [2016], a two-nights stay at the Palm Springs Renaissance Hotel, and a $50 gift card for the Ace Hotel.

Why is this event important to you?
“I think it’s important to give back to your community. And DOFL is one of my favorite events of the year. In 2015, we raised over $175,000 with 54 participating restaurants. This helps Desert AIDS Project continue to provide comprehensive care, including primary and HIV specialty healthcare and support services.”

What would you say is one of your greatest strengths? And how does it help you as a volunteer?
“I’m very outgoing. I love to meet new people and hear about them. I remember most people’s faces. No one is a stranger to me. Just ask my husband. We owned my own retail business for over 30 years and knew most of my customers by name.”

Do you volunteer for other events as well?
“Yes, there is a group of us ladies who call ourselves ‘professional volunteers.’ I volunteer at DAP for all of their special events and fundraisers throughout the year. I am also a lead usher at the Palm Canyon Theatre and I volunteer at the Palm Springs Art Museum, as well as the Palm Springs International Film Festival, American Documentary Film Festival, the Film Noir Film Festival, and Modernism Week. I love to keep busy and give back to the community.”

Dining Out For Life is an international organization that raises more than $4.2 million a year for HIV/AIDS organizations in the U.S. and Canada. Annually more than 60 AIDS service organizations produce the event each year with an average of 3,000 restaurants participating.

Visit www.diningoutforlife.com for more information. Go to www.diningoutforlife.com/palmsprings/restaurants for a list of participating restaurants in the Coachella Valley.

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