Why Support Dining Out For Life
Updated: November 28, 2018
While attending a meeting in Birmingham in October, Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood found herself surprised by some information shared by a presenter from the Centers for Disease Control’s Act Against AIDS initiative that aims to combat complacency about HIV and AIDS, especially among the hardest-hit populations like gay and bisexual men, African-Americans and Latinos.
Ludgood, who has represented District 1 since 2007, was “stunned,” she says, to learn that black heterosexual women are far more affected by HIV than women of other races and ethnicities. Black women accounted for 13 percent of all new HIV infections in the United States in 2010.
“That’s a wakeup call,” she says. “It’s also a group that feels the least susceptible.”
When she was practicing law in the 1990s, she helped a woman through a divorce from a man who didn’t tell her he was HIV positive until he got sick. “She was a devout, church-going woman,” Ludgood says. “She didn’t think she had anything to worry about.”
At the presentation, Ludgood also learned about PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a daily pill that is highly effective in preventing the spread of HIV. “In terms of stigma and hopelessness, people can dream in ways they couldn’t do before,” she says. “It’s no longer a death sentence.”
Learning so much about the current state of HIV and AIDS “brought it to my consciousness, in a way,” she says. “This has moved it front and center for me. It’s feeling really personal right now.”
As a result, Ludgood was inspired to use funds from her District 1 event to sponsor Dining Out For Life. The Mobile County Commission also increased its annual contribution to AIDS Alabama South for 2019.
The event takes place on World AIDS Day this Saturday, Dec. 1. On that day, several restaurants in Mobile and Baldwin counties will generously contribute at least 25 percent of their proceeds to AIDS Alabama South through the annual Dining Out For Life event. Participating restaurants include Pour Baby, Bob’s Downtown Diner, Time To Eat, Kazoola, Bay Breeze Café, Flip Side Bar and Patio, The Blind Mule and Butch Cassidy’s.
Chef Weston Simpson of Pour Baby would agree with Ludgood that “people need to be informed about options and treatment.” He and the rest of the staff at the elegant west Mobile restaurant “are all happy to be involved in this event for the community,” he says.
“With the percentage of people who are HIV positive here, it’s a big thing we need to advocate for.”
He has “some good friends who are positive,” he says, and he tries to make sure they eat well and take care of themselves.
Simpson, who has been the chef at Pour Baby for just over two years, says his tender ribeye seared in a cast-iron skillet and basted with butter is one of Pour Baby’s most popular dishes.
He says diners also appreciate the relaxed atmosphere. “It’s a great escape,” he says. “We talk about this in the back all the time. The seating, the lighting – it’s the perfect ambiance.”
In downtown Mobile, Tony Sawyer, owner of the popular breakfast and lunch spot Bob’s Downtown Diner, is giving fully half of the day’s sales to Dine Out for Life. “I try to give as much as I can,” says Sawyer, who opened the funky, welcoming Bob’s just over four years ago.
Sawyer feels compelled to participate in Dining Out for Life for the third straight year because a childhood friend is HIV positive. “The struggles I see him go through in life,” he says – “it hits home.” He has already lost one childhood friend to the disease.
Bob’s, which advertises itself as being “at the corner of Fat and Happy,” is actually at the corner of St. Francis and South Jackson streets in downtown Mobile. Sawyer specializes in breakfast items like corned beef hash and eggs, but “there’s so much good food on this menu,” he says.
Jerry Ehlen, the affable owner of two of downtown Mobile’s best-known gay establishments, B-Bob’s and Flip Side Bar and Patio, has supported AIDS Alabama South for more than two decades. “It’s usually our biggest charity we give to,” he says. He will donate Saturday’s sales at Flip Side to Dining Out For Life.
“A lot of people think the problem is over,” he says of the AIDS epidemic. “It hasn’t been in the forefront a lot lately, but it’s still important.”
Statistics show that HIV prevention and education are definitely still important. The South is disproportionately affected, with more than 50% of all new infections diagnosed in the U.S. Mobile County ranks as one of three counties in Alabama with the cases of HIV in the state, according to information from AIDS Alabama South. Each year, Mobile County competes with Jefferson County for the most new cases of HIV, and Mobile County has approximately one-third fewer people. Another surprising statistic is that 44% of clients served at AIDS Alabama South are women.most new
Because most of Mobile County’s African-American communities are in her district, Commissioner Ludgood says she’s going to look for more partnership opportunities.
“People are dying and they don’t have to be,” she says. “There is help and resources available. We also need to embrace (people with HIV and AIDS) and be supportive. The stigma often keeps people from getting a diagnosis and the help they need.”