Eat out for life

or 10 days this winter, dining and drinking will serve more than just to curb your appetite. From February 4, World Cancer Day, to February 15, the International Childhood Cancer Day, 10 percent of the proceeds from some of the country’s trendiest venues will help treat Lebanon’s children with cancer.

Organized in partnership with BeirutRestaurants.com, Eat out for Life is the latest initiative by the local Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon (CCCL) to raise funds for its average 250 patients per year. With the participation of more than 40 restaurants across Beirut and several eateries in Jbeil, CCCL’s fundraising executive, Karen Khoury, tells NOW Extra she hopes the campaign will bring in approximately $100,000.

Founded in 2002, the CCCL is affiliated with St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee and works closely with the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC). The patients’ survival rate is at a remarkable 80 percent, and by the end of 2010, the center had treated over 750 children.

With treatment lasting around three years and costing between $40,000 and $100, 000 a year per patient, the CCCL relies heavily on donations. “Though we receive support from the Ministry of Health and the National Social Security Fund, [their funding] remains minimal compared to our $12 million annual budget,” explains Khoury.

She adds that there are an estimated 500 new diagnoses each year and that many of the children do not always benefit from social security. The number of benefiting patients is thus a direct function of fundraising endeavors. All the more reason to make sure dinner over the next week is at one of the Eat out for life participating restaurants.

To Nabil Hayek, owner of Charlie’s Bar on Gouroud Street in Gemmayze, taking part in the event was a no-brainer. The 27-year-old is himself a cancer survivor, who has just finished treatment. As for Bob Abou Jaoude, owner of the recently opened Chicken and Cow venue at Sassine Square, Eat out for Life helps promote a noble cause. “They are doing a good job with the advertizing,” he says. “But we aren’t in it for a commercial goal; it’s just something honorable in which to take part.”

According to the project’s Facebook group, one of the program’s goals is to “create social responsibility within the Lebanese community through a unique social dining experience.”

Coming a year after  BeirutRestaurants.com’s and social-action organization Yallah Beirut’s “Dine out for Haiti,” it seems Lebanese are picking up on the trend of combining business and charity. Last February's event, which lasted one night and involved more than 36 Gemmayze eateries, churned in over $12,000 for victims of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, said BeirutRestaurants.com’s Badeeh Abla.

Though most places NOW Extra spoke to say the number of consumers following Eat out for Life's opening week end was normal, Abla says the buzz is picking up. People are going into restaurants and seeing the flyers on the tables, he explains; “Restaurant owners are also eager to support a cause that is more local, which is different from last year’s event that supported Haiti."

CCCL’s Khoury also says that additional restaurants have been calling to discuss future involvements with the NGO.

Indeed, prospects look good for this newly launched concept as well as future partnerships between businesses and charities in the country. “I think this type of program will continue with more restaurants [wanting to take part],” says Abla. “For next year, we will try and be more public, possibly involve celebrities to help with the marketing,” he tells NOW Extra. “This is just the appetizer.”

As a patron of Sursock’s E-café says, “Lebanese eat out a lot, so let it be for a good cause!”

For the list of participating restaurants, please click here.