How many Taste of Key West commemorative wine glasses are in your collection?

As ubiquitous as beads and beach towels in Key West homes, the trial-size wine glasses date back 27 years, to when the charity event first started.

While its location has changed a few times over the years, the generosity and compassion behind Taste of Key West and the organization it benefits never have wavered.

Attendees know the event as a great place to meet friends while sampling wines, beers and top-notch cuisine from everyone’s favorite local restaurants.

But for the organization behind it, AH Monroe, Taste of Key West means so much more.

Founded in 1990 as AIDS Help, Inc., the nonprofit started in response to the AIDS epidemic that was ravaging Key West and the entire nation. AIDS Help worked to provide case management, access to medical care and eventually testing and prevention services for people living with HIV and AIDS.  But as the epidemic, the disease, its treatments and prognosis advanced, so did the mission of AIDS Help, which adjusted its name a few years ago to reflect its expanding role in the community.

AH Monroe continues to provide hundreds of HIV-positive clients with medical case management, but Executive Director Scott Pridgen firmly believes that adequate and affordable housing is crucial to the health of all people, including those living with HIV.

AH Monroe now focuses on affordable housing, affordable and accessible health care and, of course, as always, AIDS Help.

“Some people still associate us as only serving people with HIV and AIDS, but that’s no longer the case at all,” Pridgen said. “Anybody can come to us and we can help direct them to services, or we can help them navigate the Medicaid and Medicare systems.”

Taste of Key West is one of the organization’s largest and longest-running fundraisers, bringing in $80,000 to $100,000 a year, he said.

“For this year, one of the critical programs that will be supported by Taste of Key West is our rental housing assistance program and our food voucher program,” Pridgen said. “The event proceeds also will help support our HIV prevention programs, because oddly enough, there’s limited government money and grants for prevention. The money, such as Ryan White Cares Act funding, comes after people contract HIV. Monies allocated to our prevention programs pay for public service announcements and outreach efforts to identify the best ways to reach people with our safer sex messaging. With the ever-increasing use of social media and various apps, we always have to be creative about how we’re getting our messaging out.”

And finally, Taste of Key West also benefits the annual SMART Ride, the Miami-to-Key-West charity bike ride that raises money for six South Florida HIV/AIDS support organizations.

“Taste of Key West, for me, is a perfect way for us to highlight the services we provide, including housing, health care and HIV support,” Pridgen said. “But the truth, we could never do it without the restaurants and the wine suppliers, all of whom donate all of the food, labor costs, prep time and staff time to set up the booths and serve the food at the event.”

At Taste of Key West, there’s no distinction between “gross and net proceeds.” All money raised through the sale of food and beverage tickets goes directly to AH Monroe. 

So pick up your 2022 Taste of Key West commemorative wine glass and meet your friends at Truman Waterfront for another delicious Taste of Key West.

Charity never tasted so good.

There is no fine print when it comes to Taste of Key West. No need to wonder how much of your donation actually reaches the intended recipient, no calculations of gross and net proceeds after expenses because the expenses are nearly nonexistent.

The generosity of all participating restaurants and beverage purveyors is what has made Taste of Key West so successful for nearly 30 years. Attendees buy tickets at the door that are then traded for samples of food, wines and beers once inside the venue, which is lined with booths offering mouth-watering options.

But here’s where the Key West community, and specifically AH Monroe win — all food, wine, beer, prep time, labor costs and set-up time is donated by the food and drink providers. All of it.

“We couldn’t do this without them and their generosity,” said AH Monroe Executive Director Scott Pridgen. “The amount of food, drinks, preparation and staff time that these companies donate is really unparalleled and we couldn’t be more grateful.”

The 280 or so options for wine and beer all are provided by Republic National Distributing Co., which has been the main beverage sponsor for Taste of Key West since its inception 27 years ago, said Roxi Garciga, who handles public relations and special events for RNDC in Florida.

“I’ve personally been involved with Taste of Key West for the past 17 years, but Republic National has been donating the wine and beer for the past 27 years, since the beginning. Each year, I ask our suppliers and the brands we represent who wants to donated and participate, and there’s never a shortage of willing participants,” Garciga said. “The companies are really happy to do it, knowing it’s going to such a good and worthy cause. And really, who’s not happy to come to Key West for a few days while taking part in a great charity event? It’s really not a tough sell.”

Community involvement and volunteerism is one of the tenets of RNDC.

 “We are committed to serving and enabling the positive well-being and success of our many communities and stakeholders,” states the family-owned company’s website. “Republic National Distributing Co.’s commitment to corporate social responsibility is part of our DNA….We participate in charitable and advocacy efforts that strengthen the social character, well-being, and growth of the many communities where we live and operate.”

Nowhere is that philosophy more apparent than at Taste of Key West. Let’s raise a glass together at Taste of Key West on Monday, April 25 at Truman Waterfront.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.