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California project aiding 'motel kids' seeks global expansion
by Elise Harris
Soup kitchen (File Photo/CNA).
Soup kitchen (File Photo/CNA).

.- An Orange county chef who began feeding impoverished children out of his restaurant in 2005 has created a special project to continue the work, which he hopes to expand to a global level.

“Growing up I knew what it was like first hand to be a part of a low income family,” Serato told CNA in a Jan. 14 interview, “so I identified with these kids.”

“I experienced many struggles myself as I came from a place of hardship and struggle.”

Serato, originally from Verona, Italy, where he grew up as one of seven children in a poor family, moved to the United States over 30 years ago and began to work as a dishwasher, but within 5 years had become the chef and owner of his own restaurant, the Anaheim White House, which is now a high-end restaurant in the area.

In 2003 the chef created “Caterina’s Club,” a project named after his mother that raises money for underprivileged children.

When Serato’s mother came to visit him in 2005, he took her to the local Boys and Girls Club, which is the main recipient of his clubs charitable funds, and while they were there they encountered a young boy eating a bag of potato chips for dinner.

It was then that they learned of the situation of the “motel kids,” which is a common phenomenon in the area where low-income families are unable to pay rent for an apartment, and are forced to live day-to-day in cheap hotels.

Often immersed in an environment of poverty, drugs, alcohol and prostitution, the kids often go without dinners because their parents cannot afford to pay for food, and there are usually no kitchens in the hotels where they stay.

When they heard this, Serato recalled that his mother told him “Bruno! Go back to your restaurant and make all of these kids dinner!” which he did, and has done every night since.

“I continued to feed them because I thought to myself, I don't have a warm meal just one night a week, or a few times a month,” he explained, “I eat dinner every night, and so do you. So these kids, they are going to eat every night!”

In 2011 Serato was nominated as one of CNN’s “Top 10” local heroes for feeding over 200 children pasta every night as an out-of-pocket expense. Since then publicity about his project has grown, and he now feeds over 1,000 children each night, operating almost 100 percent off of donations.

“The expansion of the feeding the kids has only been possible because of our generous donors” and by “the help of God,” the chef noted, adding that a 2013 fundraiser held by local KFI Radio Station “raised roughly 21,000 pounds of pasta and sauce alone.”

“It is partnerships like this that enable us to reach the people who want to help in our community but don't know how or where,” he noted, adding that “we currently feed children at after school programs at eight locations.”

Sharing the story of a family of six who lived in a motel for 12 years, Serato recalled that he originally met the family’s son, Carlos, at the Boys and Girls Club.

“I soon realized he was part of the Boys and Girls Club's Motel Outreach Program,” the chef recalled, stating that after learning “what a motel family was,” he “learned that Carlos has been living in a motel his entire life, and had known nothing different.”

“His parents had been stuck in the motel situation for 12 years, paying more monthly than they would if they were in an apartment or town home,” he explained, adding that “the only thing restricting them and their children from getting out of the motel life was a down payment.”

Being moved by the family’s situation, Caterina’s Club found “a good place for them,” and once the paperwork had been finalized, the chef “provided them with the down payment that had been holding Carlos and his family in a motel for 12 years.”

Expressing his hopes for the future, Serato highlighted his desire to “inspire people not just in America, but a crossed the globe to adopt Caterina's program,” and to “name theirs after their own mother.”

Serato voiced that although he understands these are “huge hopes,” Caterina’s Club is already communicating with various contacts in “Italy, New York, Chicago, South America, and surrounding cities in Southern California.”

Other organizations that have worked closely with the chef’s project are the KFI Radio Station, the YMCA, the Fresh Produce and Floral Council, as well as an organization called Illumination Foundation, which seeks to move families out of hotels to “safe comfortable homes and apartments.”

Serato observed that he is also “a good friend” of the Bishop of Orange County, Kevin Vann, who writes about and promotes the chef’s efforts in various ways throughout the diocese.

“Every child deserves to go to bed with a warm nutritional meal in their stomachs,” Serato stressed, “not just in Anaheim, not just in Verona, but in every city, every village, everywhere.”


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