Friends gearing up for dinners

Theresa Kuhlmann

About this time every summer, Mike Maginn defies the cliché “too many 

cooks spoil the stew” and satisfies the palate of hundreds of people.

His “guests” have different taste in food and dine on different nights. Some come dressed in togas, while others master their ability to hammer a piñata.

Each year hundreds of Peoria area people come together for Dining with Friends, a fundraiser for Friends of People with Aids, said Maginn, executive director and CEO of the organization. Participants host dinner parties at their homes, businesses, churches and even parks.

Their friends are entertained with dinner, drinks and camaraderie.

To some, Dining with Friends has become synonymous with community, friends, family and the celebration of life.

Typically, those attending are asked to donate perhaps the same amount of money a night out on the town would cost, including a babysitter. The donations are collected and turned over to the charity.

The event starts with an information meeting at the Rhythm Kitchen from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m on Aug. 14.

Interested hosts can pick up information packets, sip wine provided by Vino 100 from the Shoppes of Grand Prairie and nibble appetizers compliments of the Rhythm Kitchen.

After the meeting, hosts have the freedom to hold their individual dinner event anytime before the Grand Finale in September.

One of the nice things about Dining with Friends is that it is a manageable bite — both literally and physically, according to Golda Ewalt and her husband, Bob Streitmatter, who have hosted a DWF several times over the last 12 years.

Her advice for newcomers is to start with a small party.

“It can be any kind of party. It can be a picnic in the park; it can be an open house, sit-down dinner or a buffet. You can invite a few people or 30 people. Anything goes,” Ewalt said.

Anyone who attends a DWF dinner is automatically invited to the Grand Finale Dessert party. That event will be at the Methodist Atrium, from 8 to 11 p.m Sept. 27. The event attracts about 400 people and raises an average of $24,300 each year, Maginn estimated.

David Blasco has hosted a lot of DWF parties. He said that the Grand Finale is inspirational.

“You meet people who are diagnosed with HIV and AIDS and hear their story, and you feel great because you are helping them. It is a great way to meet people and build relationships.”

All agree that there is a huge need for money for people with HIV and AIDS.

“It’s not breast cancer and it isn’t heart disease. It kind of gets swept under the rug,” Ewalt said.

“More government funding needs to go to treatment and research. The fundraising is really important, and that is why I do it, because I see a real need in our community,” she added.

This unique event concept was started in 1995 by a group of concerned Peoria residents as the full impact of the AIDS epidemic was being felt in the area. DWF has been repeated by other AIDS service organizations and non-profits around the country, and has evolved into one of the most effective fundraising tools available in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

In Peoria alone, the event has raised more than $267,000 since its inception.

“If people want to donate, that’s great, and if they want to volunteer, that’s great, too, but we really want to generate awareness,” Maginn said.

According to Maginn, the federal aid given to the charity this year has been cut by 50 percent.

“We lost some important funding this year. My budget has been reduced to what we were operating with in 2006,” he said.

As for the rest of Friends of People with AIDS budget, the nonprofit has to rely on private donations and grants, and fundraising events like DWF.

That means a whole lot more Dining With Friends parties.

“As long as they are having them, I will be hosting them. I do it because it is a great cause, I enjoy a good party, and I like to cook,’ Ewalt said.

For more information about Dining With Friends, or Friends of People with AIDS, call Maginn at 671-2144.