Ottawa's Taste for Life benefit marks 20 years supporting individuals living with HIV/AIDS

A Taste for Life is the little fundraiser that could, climbing mountains of stigma and discrimination to reach 20 years of helping individuals and families in our community living with HIV/AIDS.

This Wednesday, friends, family and colleagues will be dining out at participating restaurants, knowing that 25 per cent of their bill will be directed toward two compassionate charities: Bruce House and the Snowy Owl AIDS Foundation.

The public has 36 restaurants to choose from, and organizers are hoping to collectively fill them all with thousands of customers. If all goes well, the evening could easily net $75,000, locally.

The event — which got its start in Ottawa — is also being held in 22 other communities, from Sudbury to Saskatoon, Calgary to Toronto, and Montreal to Edmonton.

A Taste for Life
Ottawa photographer Michelle Valberg, who previously published a photographic book to raise awareness over HIV/AIDS, and Leslie-Anne Barrett, senior makeup artist at CTV/BellMedia, were guests of the launch of A Taste for Life on Wednesday, April 18, 2018, at the Urban Element on Parkdale Avenue. Photo by Caroline Phillips

“I never thought when we started that we’d be doing it for 20 years, that we would have to be doing it for 20 years,” Lise Turpin, executive director of Snowy Owl, said at Wednesday’s event launch at the Urban Element on Parkdale Avenue. “We wish that we didn’t have to, we really do.”

Turpin helped to start Snowy Owl after losing her brother, Louis Turpin, 34, to the cruel disease 25 years ago. She was inspired to help others living with HIV/AIDS in the community, particularly those who were without the same level of love and support that Louis received from his family.

A quilt hung on the wall during the launch. It was made by Turpin's sister Nicole, with the rest of the family, to commemorate Louis after his death in 1993. 

A Taste for Life
From left, Lise Turpin with Coun. Catherine McKenney and Antoinette Strazza at the launch of A Taste for Life on Wednesday, April 18, 2018, at the Urban Element. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Medical advances in HIV/AIDS research have since stopped the disease from being an automatic death sentence. The current U=U (Undetectable = Untransmittable) awareness campaign is changing the definition of what it means to live with HIV — that people living with HIV do not transmit the virus sexually if they take treatment and maintain an undetectable viral load.

Arriving by bicycle was Somerset Ward Coun. Catherine McKenney. She's hosting at East India Company next Wednesday.

When one thinks back 20 years, there wasn’t much understanding of and compassion for HIV/AIDS at that time, the councillor said.

“To have this kind of event where the city showed its better side was really something,” she added.

Money raised from A Taste for Life has helped to fill a gap between what government can provide and what the community needs, McKenney added.

“As a member of the queer community, I’ve seen first-hand for 20 years the effect that HIV/AIDS has had on the city and our community. It continues to have a scarring legacy and we really cannot forget that there are many people who are unwell, and that there’s still a stigma attached to this disease,” she said.

A Taste for Life
Steph "the Grilling Gourmet" Legari served smoked Italian sausage with caramelized brie, San Marzano tomatoes and micro greens. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Steph "the Grilling Gourmet" Legari, Social executive chef Martin Levesque, and Antonella Ceglia and her mother, Maria, from La Roma, put out a yummy spread of food for guests. Even Sarah J came out of cupcake retirement to provide dessert.

On hand were representatives from presenting sponsor TD Bank, including district vice president Pietro Borracci. As volunteer hosts, they will be raising awareness and helping to fill the restaurants at Trattoria Caffe Italia, La Roma and Allium. TD staff will also be volunteering at other restaurants on Wednesday.

During the launch, the TD folks made a ceremonial cheque presentation of $15,000 to A Taste for Life.

A Taste for Life
From left, Brenda Bond, Jeremy Roelcke, Pietro Borracci and Kristin Dafoe, all with TD Bank, at the launch for A Taste for Life, held Wednesday, April 18, 2018, at the Urban Element on Parkdale Avenue. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Longtime supporter Denis Schryburt is hosting dozens of people at the Clocktower Brew Pub in Westboro while Turpin will be at Caffée Mio on Wellington Street West. Her gang will include University of Ottawa Health Services executive director Christopher Fisher and his partner Antoinette Strazza, COO at Emond Harnden LLP, both of whom attended the launch.

A Taste for Life
From left, Social executive chef Martin Levesque with its social media coordinator, Katherine Rainville, and supporter Stephan Klovan, who is hosting at Social for this year's A Taste for Life fundraiser happening Wednesday, April 25, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
A Taste for Life
From left, Antonella Ceglia from La Roma with Linda Truglia, manager of volunteer services and community relations at Bruce House, at the launch for A Taste for Life, happening Wednesday, April 25, 2018 in Ottawa. Photo by Caroline Phillips
A Taste for Life
An expectant Mary-Rose Brown, manager of community banking for TD, with long-time A Taste for Life supporter Denis Schryburt at this year's launch, held Wednesday, April 18, 2017, at the Urban Element on Parkdale Avenue. Photo by Caroline Phillips

— caroline@obj.ca