In the fight against HIV/AIDS, a simple dinner goes a long way. On, Thursday, April 25, head to your favorite neighborhood restaurant for the annual Dining Out for Life fundraiser. Three hundred eateries in the Denver-Boulder area will donate a portion of proceeds to Project Angel Heart, a Denver-based organization that supplies people with HIV and AIDS with healthy meals.
To learn more about the event, 5280 sat down with Dining Out for Life spokesperson Mondo Guerra, a Denver-born fashion designer and Project Runway star who is living with HIV.
[The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.]
5280: How did you end up on Project Runway?
Mondo Guerra: I had always been a fan of the show, I watched it since Season 1. I was working at [the Arvada Center for Performing Arts as a stitcher and crafter] and all the employees there were interested in sewing, so, of course, we watched Project Runway. A lot of the girls in the shop really encouraged me to go out and audition. The first year I auditioned I made it all the way to the last call for the competitors, and then I got cut. And that was a bummer. But I was really humbled by the first experience and I was going to go back. And the second year they wanted to see more of me, so they put me on the show. It was wonderful.
5280: While on the show you revealed that you are HIV-positive. What was behind that decision?
MG: It just kind of happened organically in a challenge where we were supposed to be inspired by childhood pictures, and it had to be very personal. Looking at those pictures really surfaced a lot of emotions. They really made me reflect on my life and being HIV-positive for 10 years before I revealed it to anybody. Seeing those pictures of my parents and my sisters and me...something really resonated with me that day that was telling me to create something that was so much a part of me, and that will continue to be a part of me. I created this textile that was a repeating pattern of positives, or plus signs. When I was ready to talk about it I kind of danced around the subject. But when I was about to leave the runway, I stopped and I turned around to the judges again, and I said you know this is the real story. I had to let go of it at that point. If I was going to deny myself of my own inspiration, then there would be no reason for me to continue to create. My creativity has always been my food, my sleep, my rest, and I had to talk about it or I would be letting myself down.
5280: How did you get involved with Dining out For Life and Project Angel Heart?
MG: I was approached by someone from Subaru [the event’s sponsor], and they asked me if I’d like to be a spokesperson for Dining Out for Life. Of course I said yes. Not only is [the event] helping several different communities across the U.S. and Canada, but also with me being HIV-positive it’s another chance for me to continue the conversation. I grew up here in Denver and we need to support our community. We are so lucky to have Project Angel Heart. I have been going to the events for the past six or seven years and it’s an important day for me. I take somebody who is close to me, but who I feel might not access the information and educate them. It’s a perfect opportunity to have a conversation about HIV.
5280: Tell me more about the event.
MG: Dining Out for Life is an annual event sponsored by Subaru, and this year it will be on Thursday, April 25. There are an estimated 275,000 people who dine out on that night. You can go to diningoutforlife.com and look at participating restaurants in your state. The most wonderful thing about the project is that the percentage of the proceeds gathered from each and every restaurant stays in the state. Project Angel Heart is our local AIDS service organization, and they will get all the money from the Denver area. Knowing that I am HIV-positive, so many people ask me how they can get involved or how they can volunteer. This is the perfect way. Go out and have a really good meal with a bunch of friends and know that you are helping your community and the local HIV community.
5280: Project Angel Heart delivers meals to people with HIV and AIDS. How important is it to people struggling with their health to receive good food?
MG: This is so important, and I know this because I was at a point in my life about three and a half years ago where I couldn’t support myself. I had to seek help from our local AIDS service organization and the food bank. The great thing about Project Angel Heart is that they supply healthy food to people, but they also offer other services.
5280: When you’re in Denver, where do you head first for a good meal?
MG: I consider myself a foodie and I love to dine out. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I’ll call a friend up and we will make a reservation and get dressed up and try a new restaurant. So whenever there is a new restaurant I always like to experience it. Linger has been open for a while, but it's still kind of my favorite. I also like Twelve. On that note, one of the best things about Dining Out for Life is that Subaru is actually bringing their main event here to Denver because I’m the newest spokesperson. We are going to have a huge dinner at Panzano in the Hotel Monaco.
5280: Where can people go to find out more about HIV and AIDS?
MG: I’m part of a national HIV education campaign called I Design, in collaboration with Merck. You can visit projectidesign.com and it has some really important information that is not intimidating. If you can’t access information that way, visit your local AIDS service organization and pick up some material and educate yourself about HIV. Know your status. That is the number one thing that everybody needs to know.
WHAT: Dining out For Life
WHEN: Thursday, April 25, 2013
WHERE: Find participating restaurants at dingingoutforlife.com
—Image courtesy of McBoat Photography