Vittorio Ristorante Sponsors Holiday Luncheon
Vittorio Ristorante and Pizzeria opened its doors on December 22 for a special holiday celebration held for 100 foster children. This was the ninth year that children were invited to come to lunch, receive a special visit from Santa Claus and given gifts collected from local residents.
“I’m going to have pizza!” said one of the kids with Happy Trails, a nonprofit that supports foster children. Indeed, there was pizza–and the special garlic rolls that Vittorio is known for. Two tables of boys happily munched through several platefuls, while waiting for the pizza.
Little did the kids know the planning for this luncheon started in November when Marie Steckmest, through Palisades Cares, put out a plea for an annual Toy Drive. Half of the toys collected go to these children. “This is one of my favorite events of the year,” said Steckmest, a former Citizen of the Year.
The next step was wrapping them. Volunteer Terri Webb said that earlier this week, they put all the toys on tables in Vittoro, and volunteers matched a child’s request with a toy and wrapped it.
“If they didn’t specify a toy, we’d look at what they said their interests were and find something for them,” Webb said.
The Sons of the American Legion were also involved. Not only did several members volunteer at the Saturday event, but the group hired the buses needed to transport the kids.
“They’re going on a hike, first,” SAL’s Hank Elder said, “and then we bring them here.
“I cannot think of anything in Pacific Palisades as special as this event this time of year,” he said.
This annual event began after Vanessa was diagnosed with CNS (central nervous system) lupus in December 2010 and hospitalized for two weeks.
“We weren’t sure I was going to pull through, since the disease was attacking the blood vessels in my brain,” Vanessa said. “My mother, being a devout Catholic, prayed to Nossa Senhora de Aparecida in Brazil. She performs miracles, according to local legend, and so my mother prayed.”
(Her mother was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and met her husband Ron while he was traveling to Rio de Janeiro for Carnivale. The couple married, and Mercedes came to the United States, where she started Mercedes’ Continental Delights, a bakery in the San Fernando Valley. In 1984, she opened Vittorio with a partner, but when Giovanni Mazzola left to open a new restaurant in Malibu, Mercedes Pellegrini kept Vittorio.)
Mercedes’ prayers were answered and after a few weeks of intensive care in the hospital, Vanessa was sent home, well on the way to recovery.
“As an offering, we both promised to give back to the less fortunate children, who are innocent and often times are the victims of circumstance,” Vanessa said. “I had worked with School on Wheels since 1999 and I was intimately involved with kids who were living in abused homes, homeless shelters and transitory houses. These were the children that were forgotten, and so, the Holiday Luncheon was born.”
Vanessa, who works with her mom in the restaurant (16646 Marquez Ave.) and at Compass Reality, has two sisters, Sabrina and Pia.
Happy Trails for Kids was started by Pacific Palisades resident Pepper Edmiston in 1982. Her son David Abrams was stricken with childhood leukemia when he was two years old. He survived cancer, but his treatments left him developmentally disabled and epileptic. The family couldn’t find a sleep away camp for him, so they started one.
For the next 13 years, Happy Trails hosted families who were raising serious ill or incapacitated boys and girls. David’s sibling Susan came to camp and when she was older, she became an attorney who represented children in foster care. In 2009, she took over as president of Happy Trails, and focused on the mission of kids in foster care—whether they had disabilities or not.
Annually in California, about 4,000 kids age out of the foster care system without adequate support or skills. Happy Trails helps older youth, too, with college explorations, workshops and fun activities such as this holiday celebration.
As each youngster left with presents and a bag containing a large cookie, Vanessa said. “The luncheon is an amazing day for us, for the kids and for the community!”
Visit: happytrailsforkids.org or Vittoriosla.com or call (310) 459-3755.