Experience a 'dark dinner' at Mt. Pleasant Area High School ... for a good cause, of course
The experience of “dining in the dark,” with lights dimmed or extinguished or with diners wearing blindfolds, became popular in Europe in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
It was seen as a way of focusing more on flavors and aromas, rather than on the visual presentation of the meal, and also as a means of creating a different type of social interaction among diners.
Soon enough, restaurants and nonprofit groups began to serve such meals to raise funds for programs that serve people who are blind or visually impaired.
Around Western Pennsylvania, Leo Clubs — youth service organizations affiliated with Lions Club International — have picked up on the trend.
The Mt. Pleasant Vikings Pride Leo Club will host Dining in the Dark on April 20 at Mt. Pleasant Area Junior-Senior High School.
Proceeds will go to a technology grant for the Adult Training Facility at the Westmoreland County Blind Association in Greensburg..
Club membership includes 22 students from both the life skills support class and the general student population, says faculty sponsor Jennifer Bradley. They're affiliated with the Mt. Pleasant Township Lions Club.
“It's an inclusionary club that's service-oriented and student-led,” Bradley says.
The April 20 dinner will be the first community service project for the club, which was formed at the beginning of the current school year.
It will be catered by the parent of a student at the school, Bradley says, and Leo Club members will act as “table ambassadors,” serving the food and assisting the diners as they eat blindfolded.
“If you don't have your sight, how do you eat?” Bradley says. “The placement of the food on the plate can be a help, and you can use your roll as a guide.”
A blindfolded musician will provide dinner music and there will be a basket raffle. The Leos also will collect used eyeglasses, and diners bringing a pair will receive a ticket for the raffle.
There also will be a community services resource table, Bradley says.
The Mt. Pleasant Lions have helped to promote the dinner, says secretary Ed Ungvarsky of Norvelt.
“Other than the promoting, the kids are in charge,” he says. “This is a good learning experience for them.”
Ungvarsky says he went to a similar dinner last year hosted by the Penn-Trafford Leo Club.
“It's not easy to do if you're not used to it. You should be careful of what you wear,” he says jokingly. “They said, ‘Put up our hand when you're finished,' and I said, ‘How do I know if I'm done?'
“People go around helping you if you're having trouble,” he says. “When they serve you your plate, they tell you where everything is: ‘The meat is at 12 o'clock, the potato is at 3 o'clock, the vegetables are at 6 o'clock.”
That was the first dark dinner served on behalf of the Westmoreland County Blind Association, says executive director Tim Miller.
“I'm legally blind, so for me, it was a natural thing,” he says. “But the kids did a great job and the people really liked it.”
The dinners often include sensory exercises for the blindfolded participants, like passing around an object to be identified or teaching a way to perform a task without using sight, Miller says.
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750, email@example.com or via Twitter @shirley_trib.