Richmond restaurateur gives back for Thanksgiving

on November 28, 2014

Last Thanksgiving, David Farre did not have his turkey.

Diagnosed with an aggressive stomach cancer, the Vietnam veteran fought for his life. Doctors ended up removing most of his stomach, just leaving one egg-sized part.

A year later, with his cancer in remission, Farre enjoyed his Thanksgiving feast at Salute E Vita.

“I feel like I am a special person, I feel like I am in the right place at the right time with real nice people for this event, it’s really spiritual for me,” said Farre, wearing a knitted blue scarf and hat given to him by Menbere Aklilu, Salute’s owner.

“People want to feed me and I don’t have the stomach,” Farre said, eating only a little bread and taking a doggie bag home for his sister.

Farre stands as living proof that at Salute’s all are welcome, especially on Thanksgiving Day. More than 1,000 homeless and low-income men, women and children came to the elegant waterfront restaurant for a day of food and donations and a heaping helping of good cheer.

This was the restaurant’s fourth Thanksgiving event and this time, Aklilu placed special emphasis on a specific group: veterans.

“I said it’s impossible, they are veterans and they are homeless,” Aklilu said. “And the veterans told me, ‘well a lot of us, we live in shelters. A lot of us are on the streets’ and then I said next year I will do veterans.”

Salute’s non-profit, Salute Thanksgiving Celebration, raised more than $50,000. It donated $20,000 of that to the Berkeley Food and Housing/Road Home program Supportive Services for Veteran Families and Men’s Housing Program, and West County Interim Housing Program.

Starting at 10 a.m., more than 30 volunteers bused white-linen tables and served three course meals to the smiling and laughing friends and families.

For Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsey, a third-year volunteer, the event is a family ritual.

“Both my wife and I are working, and my son helped out last year,” Lindsey said. “It’s really to support Menbe’s [Aklilu] generosity in the community and it’s really a privilege to help out in that regard.”

Outside in tents, nurses offered free flu shots to parents, while children ran the other way to the goodies table.

Donated goodie bags included slippers, socks, candy, toys, canned food and second hand clothing.

Walking outside, Aklilu carried a suede camel jacket, and strolled up to a young woman and covered her shoulders with the jacket, whispering “it looks good on you.”

“To be honest, I wish I did this every day because seeing somebody happy and smiling, it’s the most beautiful thing you can see,” Aklilu says, armed with a tissue for any wayward tears that escaped her eyes.

“There is a lot of tragedy and making people happy and smiling and praying on the table together, that’s the most important thing.”

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