Salute owner stunned by outpouring of community support for Thanksgiving event

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Launch party for Menbe's Way Fund on Aug. 23 to kick-start expansion of Salute owner's charitable efforts
Salute owner Menbere Aklilu said she was overwhelmed by the community's support for her restaurant's annual Thanksgiving event.

An outpouring of community support for a Richmond restaurant’s goal to feed 1,300 homeless people, many of them veterans, on Thanksgiving Day will do far more than serve meals.

Due to an unexpectedly large stream of donations for the fourth annual Salute Thanksgiving Celebration at Salute e Vita Ristorante, four Bay Area shelters will each receive a $5,000 check, Salute owner Menbere Aklilu said Wednesday.

The restaurant is also sending buses to those four shelters — located in Richmond, Fairfield, Concord and Berkeley — to pick up and return veterans, Aklilu said.

From 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Salute’s, located at 1900 Esplanade Drive, guests will be treated to a fine-dining restaurant experience. They will also have the options of free flu shots and a U.S. Coast Guard-led tour around the Bay, and will receive gift bags filled with donated items, Aklilu said.

Salute owner stunned by outpouring of community support for Thanksgiving event
Salute E Vita Chef Fernando Aguayo shows off some of the stuffing that will be served to homeless veterans.

Aklilu teared-up Wednesday while describing how this year’s feast has drawn the most community support.

“Everybody wants to be involved,” Aklilu said. “Everybody in this community stood up for veterans. Everybody.”

The list of donors is indeed long.

Richmond Wholesale donated 60 turkeys to the event. Richmond-based Hartmann Studios lent silverware, plates, glasses and the tents where the flu shots will be given. The Richmond Police Department is lending a van to help transport veterans between the restaurant and BART Station. Galaxy Desserts is providing two dessert-types for the feast: pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin tart.

Salute owner stunned by outpouring of community support for Thanksgiving event
Bags of dinner rolls were donated by a local business.

In one dining room at Salute’s, hundreds of donated dinner rolls sit in large bags. An upstairs room is filled with all sorts of donated items, including large boxes from San Francisco-based Down Etc. that are stuffed with pillows, clothes, shoes and other items.

During our visit Wednesday, a woman dropped off a check, a common occurrence these past few days.

“People are coming in one after the other,” Akililu said. “They drop off checks, bread, coffee, orange juice….everything.”

Salute expecting to serve hundreds of families in need Thanksgiving meals.
Guests on Thanksgiving will receive a sit-down restaurant-style feast. A meal with “dignity” and “hope,” the owner says.

The restaurant is providing all the meals and kitchen labor and has lined up enough volunteers to help serve guests.

Aklilu said she never imagined the event would become this big after just four years. In its first year, she said, 300 homeless and hungry were served as opposed to the 1,300 expected this year, and the 1,300 who came last year. The Salute owner said she holds the event because her family was once in need. She fled an abusive husband long ago while pregnant, but rebounded with the help of a single caring person. She hopes she can help others in the same way.

Salute has been working with locally-based Greater Richmond Interfaith Program and Rubicon to access and invite homeless veterans and community members.

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