“A journey of taste, touch, sounds and awareness.” That’s how Florida Center for the Blind, Inc. (FCB) describes their innovative fundraising event Dining in the Dark, which took place on October 18th at the Hilton Ocala. This engaging annual event creates an opportunity for guests temporarily experience what it’s like to eat a meal as someone who is blind would—in complete darkness. While the simulation is not meant to replicate the complex reality of the challenges faced by blind and visually impaired individuals, it is a powerful way to gain some insight into some of their daily challenges. But the truly enlightening part of the evening was hearing firsthand from the trailblazing non-profit’s clients about the impact that FCB has had on their lives. These clients range from children who were born blind to adults who are in the process of losing their sight.
“We provide services for clients from birth to end of life. And each group has its own unique set of needs. We provide support, training and resources to give our clients independence, confidence and hope for the future,” explains FCB President and CEO Anissa Pieriboni. “Every October we host Dining in the Dark in conjunction with the Ocala Police Department and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office SWAT teams. Each year the event directly raises around $10,000 to help fund the center.”
What the event also does is raise awareness about the essential work the 501(c)(3) does and leads to further donations. FCB serves eight north central Florida counties: Alachua, Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy, Marion and Union. They serve over 200 individuals and have been providing vision rehabilitation services since 1988 at no cost to their clients.
The concept of Dining in the Dark events like the one hosted by FCB began in Germany, swept across Europe, and arrived in the US in 2005. This was the 6th annual Dining in the Dark event for the Florida Center for the Blind. Each year, guests are escorted into the darkness and to their tables by Marion County Sheriff’s Office & Ocala Police Department’s SWAT teams, who also serve the meals using their night vision goggles. This has become an essential element of the event.
“Watching our guests interact with the SWAT members,” Pieriboni explains is one of her favorite parts of the evening. “Entering a room of darkness and relying on others to lead the way—such a vulnerable feeling.”
And just as they do every day in our community, those teams are there to protect and serve…only in this instance, they good-naturedly serve up a meal for a cause close to their hearts.