New Jersey author and news columnist Mark DiIonno will serve as master of ceremonies at Vision Loss Alliance of New Jersey’s (VLANJ) Dining in the Dark on Oct. 24.
Dining in the Dark guests will enjoy a three-course gourmet meal with all their senses — except sight. They’ll wear black eye shades to briefly experience what it’s like for people who are blind or have significant vision loss. Held during Blindness Awareness Month, the event at The Meadow Wood in Randolph is VLANJ’s major fundraiser of the year.
“I’m honored to be involved and to support this important work,” said DiIonno. The Mountain Lakes resident has spent much of his 40-year career in journalism shining a light on the struggles and triumphs of regular people.
Vision Loss affects one out of 40 adults in New Jersey, according to the 2017 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, and the numbers are expected to increase significantly as the population ages. The National Eye Institute projects the number of people with visual impairment or blindness in the U.S. will double to more than 8 million by 2050.
Created in 1943, Vision Loss Alliance is one of the state’s longest-serving nonprofits for adults with vision loss. It began as a social club in Newark, then moved to Denville in 1955 as a summer camp for women. The nonprofit evolved into the only comprehensive, nonresidential vision rehabilitation program for adults in New Jersey. It provides direct services in three counties to 225 adults, and another 1,000 participate in outreach programs.
“Vision Loss Alliance is an organization that shows a true benefit, that works,” said longtime supporter Joseph Cicchetti. He and his wife of 36 years, Antionette, are serving as the dinner chairs. “To not have sight is a great loss, but the people who come [to VLANJ] learn skills and go on to have fulfilling lives,” he said. “It’s inspiring.”
VLANJ will present its Founders Award to Joseph Ruffalo Jr., president of the New Jersey affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, and the Morristown Medical Center Community Health Committee. VLANJ Senior Program Manager Linda Groszew will receive the organization’s service award for her 15 years with the nonprofit.
Festivities begin at 6 p.m. and include a cocktail hour, art auction, silent auction and live music. A wine pull has been added this year: guests can pull a cork for $20 and will go home with the bottle that matches the number on their cork. VLANJ participants will serve as ambassadors, guiding diners.
As a columnist for The Star-Ledger, DiIonno was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his series on families recovering from Hurricane Sandy. The Mountain Lakes resident also worked as a sports columnist, features writer and editor during his career. DiIonno said his 2012 novel, The Last Newspaperman, was recorded and made available for the visually impaired. His most recent novel is Gods of Wood and Stone, published in 2018.
Dining in the Dark tickets are $125 per person, and tables can be reserved for 10 guests for $1,000. Visit vlanj.org/save-the-date. Sponsorship opportunities are still available by contacting Director of Development Jennifer Singer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-627-0055, ext. 1323.
Another way to support VLANJ it to purchase bottles of wine for the wine pull. Cambridge Wines in Morristown is donating 15 percent of every purchase. Use this website link: https://www.cambridgewinesnj.com/search/vision+loss+alliance/. Select “store pickup” and VLANJ will collect the donated wines.