Vittorios Ristorante Sponsors Holiday Luncheon for Foster Children: Gifts Are Needed

Vanessa Pellegrini stands in front of presents that were given to foster children in 2018. Please consider donating a gift.

Vittorios Ristorante and Pizzeria will once again open its doors to more than 100 foster children shortly before Christmas Eve for a special holiday celebration. This will be the tenth year that children will be treated to lunch and receive a special visit from Santa Claus, who will hand out gifts collected from local residents.

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, Mercedes, 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 Vittorios.)

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 siblings, 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 seriously 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. (Visit:

Gifts are needed, for suggestions please see  below.

Unwrapped presents maybe dropped off at Vittorio’s (16646 Marquez Ave.) Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Or gifts maybe dropped off at the Ho!Ho!Ho! at Simon Meadow (corner of Temescal Canyon Road and Sunset Boulevard) on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. At the Ho!Ho!Ho! event, elves will be on hand to wrap presents.

Suggestions for boys:

  • Sports Equipment (basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, baseballs & mitts)
  • Skateboards
  • Mini MP3 Players
  • Phone Cases/Charging Sets
  • Any type of Electronic Gadgets
  • Puzzles
  • Sportswear (jerseys, team shirts)
  • Wallets
  • Speaker Sets
  • Inexpensive Watches
  • Super Hero Gadgets/Memorabilia
  • Gift Cards

Suggestions for girls:

  • Inexpensive Bracelets/Necklaces
  • Mini MP3 Players
  • Speaker Sets
  • Phone Cases/Charging Sets
  • Any type of Electronic Gadgets
  • Puzzles
  • Handbag/Coin Purse
  • Make-Up Kit
  • Art/Box Kit
  • Toiletry Set
  • Small Bottle of Perfume
  • Gift Cards
  • Help foster kids celebrate the season by donating a gift.
    Photo: David Peterson

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