Menbere Aklilu says a letter and generous gift dropped off anonymously at her Marina Bay restaurant last week brings her to tears every time she reads it.
Owner of the popular Salute e Vita Ristorante, Aklilu is well known in the community for her charitable acts, including her annual Thanksgiving event serving local veterans and the homeless. On Monday, she told us an anonymous donor, described to her as a woman in her 50s, delivered the gift to her restaurant at 1900 Esplanade Drive on Thursday.
The “beautifully wrapped” gift contained a book about the Kuan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion, along with a touching letter and $2,000 in cash, Aklilu said.
The woman apparently dropped off the gift and quickly left without leaving her name.
“No phone number, no address, nothing,” Aklilu said.
Aklilu said she didn’t meet the woman — a manager alerted her to the gift.
“For me, it’s a huge love she left in my heart,” Aklilu beamed. “It’s unbelievable, inspiring, touching…I cried like a baby.”
In the letter, the donor wrote that the contribution was inspired by a recent article about Aklilu in Contra Costa Marketplace Magazine entitled “A Lifetime of Scars Turned into Good.”
The article discussed the heartbreaking stories of Aklilu’s life — how she witnessed her mother’s murder as a child, escaped an abusive husband as a single mother, then later worked her way up the ranks at Salute’s from hostess to general manager, before she eventually purchased the restaurant.
These days, Aklilu is paying her changed fortunes forward and then some. Along with the Thanksgiving charity event, she pampers low-income local moms for Mother’s Day, donated $15,000 to the West County Family Justice Center, a one-stop resource center in Richmond for victims of abuse, and holds etiquette courses at her restaurant for local youth, which teaches life lessons.
She won the prestigious Jefferson Award for her efforts, which have led to the formation of the the Menbe’s Way Fund, which has been formed to sustain and expand her charitable efforts, including assisting local students and schools.
Aklilu said the $2,000 cash donation will go toward an effort to construct a school for girls in her native Ethiopia. As the Contra Costa Marketplace article indicates, Aklilu is currently fundraising to renovate her mother’s Ethiopian hotel and turn it into a shelter for girls.
“I feel so blessed,” Aklilu said Monday.