Celebrities might feel naturally compelled to throw themselves behind a cause: The universe has been good to them, so it eventually becomes time to pay it forward. But when I chat with Pam Grier, best known for her smokin' hot bod and badassery in vintage blacksploitation films, her impassioned empathy for those who might be suffering is palpable. "You don't want to be alone when you're ill. And family can't always be there."
She said she simply doesn't understand people, especially those with means, who don't help out others in need. So she's taking it upon herself to edge us all out of our comfort zones. See also: Dining Out for Life Returns to Minneapolis in April
As a cancer survivor, Grier says she's got firsthand experience with suffering from a disease and not having all of the support she needed during her time of crisis. But she was inspired to take on HIV and AIDS as a specific cause because she lost a lot of friends during the '80's AIDS crisis, many of them having died in silence because of shame around the disease. One was her hair stylist, who had a lot of friends, but Grier says they didn't come during his time of need because of fear.
"He didn't have food in his refrigerator," she recalls when she went to visit.
Dining Out for Life's mission is to support the missions of 60 "outstanding" HIV/AIDS service organizations throughout North America. Some of them provide awareness for AIDS prevention, others provide much needed support like food for people suffering from the disease, others provide information about drugs that can now allow HIV-positive individuals to live a normal and healthy life.
I asked Grier why she thought Dining Out for Life's mission to raise awareness through eating out was unique, and she said, "When you have the privilege of dining out, whether it's at a greasy spoon or at a five-star white tablecloth restaurant, you are nourishing yourself both physically and spiritually."
She said she hopes that when people feel good, they'll be compelled to do good for others. "I hope that people drink a lot and eat a lot and give a lot!"
Grier lives in a remote area of Colorado, "out in the sticks," not near any city. Her town just got its first stoplight and she says she entertains herself by watching people breeze through it and get tickets. On the night of DOFL, she says she'll be driving into Denver to take her mother to two of her favorite restaurants, Piatti Italian and Jing Asian Fusion.
She says she likes to cook and she likes to eat and she has to balance a good diet now that her doctors have taught her good eating habits after recovering from cervical cancer. "Sometimes I want curry, and sometimes I just want papaya with lime, and sometimes I just want my mom's cooking. She's a good cook and she surprises us with things like mussels with shallot, white wine, and creme fraiche. It can't be Daisy Sour Cream. It's gotta be creme fraiche!"
There are over 200 restaurants participating in DOFL locally, so whether your tastes run to bivalves or tropical fruit, there ought to be something to indulge in. All you do is dine out at a participating restaurant on April 30, and that restaurant will give up to 100 percent of that night's proceeds to DOFL.
As Grier has watched the AIDS crisis abate after living through it, she says she wants the strides in information and medical technology to continue and not slip backward. But we all need to be vigilant, and supportive, she says.
"I go to friend's houses, and they're lucky enough to have stoves the size of cars! But they don't always help. And I don't understand it. Not everyone is generous at heart."
Grier's generosity of spirit goes beyond charity work. She says she likes to sit in the moonlight and strum her guitar, and she sometimes Tweets while doing so. She said a fan once suggested that Grier cook her some red velvet pancakes with chocolate chips. "She came over and I ran inside and did just that!"
Watch her Twitter feed if you want to get in on the action -- she said she's done such "late night kitchen capers" and guitar strumming sessions more than once.
Or, if you can't get out to the sticks of Colorado, just join her in dining out on April 30, and we can all nourish ourselves together, in spirit.
Last year, DOFL raised $4.13 million for HIV/AIDS service organizations nationally and over a quarter of a million in the Greater Twin Cities Area. Funds raised locally stay in those communities.
Send your story tips to Hot Dish.