SWINGERS — The best things in life are free, but that shouldn’t keep you from shelling out some cash for them anyway.

That’s why you’ll be asked to donate $1 for every glass of tap water you drink at your favorite local restaurant this week, up until March 28.

The Red Cross of Santa Monica is holding a fundraiser through UNICEF called Project TAP. The donations from participating restaurants will go toward providing clean drinking water to countries where people are living with unsanitary conditions.

“It’s a fundraiser with UNICEF. Basically they have people all over the country recruit restaurants,” Red Cross volunteer and Samohi senior Monica Choo said. “Restaurants ask all their customers who order tap water to donate a dollar.”

The project began in 2007 in New York City. Last year, the project raised over $300,000, said Cory Russell, a Red Cross worker and one of five city coordinators hired for the project in the Los Angeles region.

The Project TAP Web site stated that every dollar buys enough water to supply one child with safe drinking water for 40 days — approximately 40 liters, Russell said.

Russell said the Red Cross of Santa Monica is the only Red Cross chapter currently involved in the project. This year, Red Cross volunteers — many of whom are high school and college students — have set out to recruit various local restaurants to the project. The community service group that goes out to recruit is comprised mainly of older teenagers and young adults, but Russell said middle school student volunteers can still participate in the project.

“If some of them can’t go out, they take care of the awareness events — outreach,” Russell said. “If they prove themselves, they can go out with the high school juniors and seniors recruiting.”

The recruiters inform restaurant managers about the project and what it takes to be involved. If the restaurant agrees to participate, they must pledge a certain level of activity, Russell said.

“We inform them what the project is and give them information for their employees,” Choo said. “Sometimes they can be really difficult, but if we keep going back we can get a few here and there.”

While many restaurants have agreed to support the project, and all of them will be eventually recognized, the Santa Monica Red Cross is currently paying particular attention to Swingers Diner, located on the corner of Broadway and Lincoln Boulevard.

“This is our first year doing it,” Swingers General Manager Amanda Graham said. “We had wanted to do it last year but didn’t have enough warning. This year we wanted to do it because of the recruitment.”

Swingers and other restaurants will heavily encourage donations for their normally free glasses of tap water, but they have decided not to make the charge mandatory.

“We wanted to give people an option,” Graham said. “We think people will be really excited about it.”

Safe drinking water will be brought to countries based on their level of need. Russell said this year they are really focused on Togo, the Central African Republic and Haiti, which was recently hit by three Katrina-level hurricanes.

“For me personally, I’m a big believer in community. I just like to evenly hit everything, whether it’s animals, people in other countries. I just want to make sure that everyone and everything gets the help it needs,” Graham said. “It’s something we haven’t supported before, so I’m happy to support it.”

To learn more about Project TAP, go to www.tapproject.org.


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