An ever-growing Thanksgiving tradition has become an annual showcase of the Richmond community’s talent for banding together to help its most vulnerable citizens.
Salute e Vita Ristorante owner Menbere “Menbe” Aklilu is set to host 1,300 homeless and hungry people at her fifth Thanksgiving Day feast.
Aklilu, a domestic violence survivor who says her life rebounded thanks to the kindness of a single person, never thought her idea to provide a free fine-dining experience to the needy would grow to the size it has. Her restaurant served 300 people in its first year. In 2012, attendance was double at 600.
The restaurateur has connected with regional shelters and nonprofits in order to invite guests, including veterans. She was stunned at the community’s significant response to her efforts.
As word got out about the event, local businesses and neighbors began donating money and various items to boost the number of guests and their experience.
This Thursday, the so-called 5th Annual Free Thanksgiving Feast promises to reach new heights in terms of community participation. More than a dozen local businesses and community leaders have contributed, organizers said. Richmond Wholesale is providing turkeys, Galaxy Desserts is again providing desserts, and Maggioria Baking Company the dinner rolls. The Richmond Police Department is also pitching in a van serving disabled guests. See a list of contributors at the bottom of this story.
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, Police Chief Chris Magnus, City Manager Bill Lindsay and Fire Chief Adrian Sheppard are scheduled to attend the event, organizers said. Guests will be provided bus transportation and served in three seatings.
“Guests are seated at tables set with lovely dinnerware on white tablecloths, and served a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in her elegant restaurant, overlooking the beautiful Marina Bay,” organizers said in a statement.
Like last year, free flu shots will be offered and guests will also go home with goody bags filled with personal items. They will also have the option of selecting a coat, courtesy of donations from the community.
The Thanksgiving event is one of a number of charitable efforts Aklilu has launched in the community. Earlier this year, she received the prestigious Jefferson Award for her public volunteerism. To streamline fundraising efforts for her charities, Aklilu created the Menbe’s Way Fund, which is managed by the nonprofit Richmond Community Foundation. Those wishing to donate toward the effort can write your check to the Richmond Community Foundation, referencing “Menbe’s Way” in the memo section. Checks can be mailed to the restaurant.
Here’s just some of the local Richmond businesses that have come together to generously support and contribute to the success of this year’s event:
- Richmond Wholesale is donating the turkeys.
- Galaxy Desserts is donating the desserts.
- Maggiora Baking Company is donating the dinner rolls.
- Standard Party Rentals (formerly Hartmans Studios) is donating tents for the flu shots and volunteers, plus chairs, tables, and dinnerware.
- Menbe’s Way Fund is providing bus service for guests.
- Richmond Police Department is providing a wheelchair van for disabled guests.
- Merchants Bank is coordinating the transportation logistics.
- Oakland Packaging & Supply will send a crew to handle all aspects of the clean up.
- Local schools are holding coats drives and the donated coats will be distributed at the event.
- Channel Lumber Company custom-built coat racks to display the donated coats. True to Menbe’s desire to treat everyone with kindness and respect, she didn’t want her guests rummaging through boxes to select coats. Instead, she plans to hang each coat beautifully on the racks.
- Richmond’s Mayor, Police Chief, Fire Chief, City Manager and many other community dignitaries are volunteering their time to serve the meals.