“BELLINI for WWP” Raises an Unprecedented Amount During Charity Benefit

May 4th, 2011

I can sum up my experience last Thursday in only one word…. humbling.

When I brought the idea of Bellini hosting a charity event up to John Spina, there were mixed emotions, including my own, and many questions; who will work, what will it cost, can the restaurant support something like this….. where do we start?? But nontheless, John gave me his blessing and left it with me to organize my first charity benefit, it was then that I realized I may have bit off more than I can chew.

Instead of comitting the restaurant to donate a portion of sales, I met with the servers & bartenders of Bellini and asked them if they would be willing to donate thier tips for only one day & one night to an organization called the Wounded Warrior Project (www.woundedwarriorproject.org). With a little explanation of what the project did and how much it would benefit such a great cause, I was met with very little hesitation, if none at all, and with that I had the date and the committment set. Shortly after we decided who we were raising funds for and setting the date, I received terrible news that a good friend of mine that I proudly served with in the Marine Corps had died during combat operations in Afghanistan. The news hit like a ton of bricks and after experiencing my first Marine Corps funeral, the charity efforts kicked into overdrive; the proceeds would be donated in the name of my friend, Corporal Jordan Stanton.The following weeks can only be described as awe-inspiring. Everything seemed to fall into place when it needed to and any of you that visited the resaurant during the first few weeks of April probably saw me running around or perhaps even talked to me when I interrupted your dinner or lunch to speak about the charity event:-), or maybe you received the millions of texts or facebook messages my wife, Astyn, was sending out as she helped me promote it.

On Thursday, April 28th, while I was driving down the 101 freeway trying to navigate my car while it was filled completely with red, white and blue balloons I began to doubt myself and the efforts that I was putting into the event; will it turn out ok, is it going to be a bust, what if I only raise a dollar???? As I pulled the last balloon from my car (and watched a couple of them that had escaped float away to who knows where), I walked in the restaurant and saw what I thought to be a familiar face and immediately any qualms that I was having about the day floated away with those balloons. Sitting in the far corner of the restaurant were two women quietly drinking water, patiently waiting for some of our warm bread, no doubt. As I wiped the resulting tear from my eye… I walked up and hugged Corporal Stanton’s mother, Joyce, and his fiancee, Julie; they had sacraficed most of their day in order to drive up from Rancho Santa Margherita where they lived to show their support for the charity and say thank you. It was the last thing I ever expected and no matter how much or how little was raised, at that point the day was real. I was thanked for putting on the charity and raising money in Jordan’s name when it should have been quite the opposite; I should have been the one thanking them not only for driving up, but fot the sacrafice they have endured and will endure for some time. So, Julie and Joyce, if you happen to be reading this, thank you so much for making the event special and real for me, and on behalf of Bellini restaurant we extend a warm hug and a family thank you to Julie and the Stanton family, you guys are awesome!

Long story short, lunch was a little slow but still showed somewhat of a heartbeat in form of donations. Dinner…. was a different story. From about 5pm until close to midnight, the restaurant was wall to wall with supporters. Those that were unaware of the evening’s events that may have come in just for dinner or an after-work cocktail were soon part of the celebration and happy to give towards a great cause. Early on in the evening, the rastaurant and its patrons were graced by the presence of about 15 United States Marines from the 2nd Battalion 23rd Marines based out of Port Hueneme, California, when they sat down for dinner to show their support. Later on, we danced the night away to the band “Freak Patrol”, who on a last minutes notice, put together an amazing show that had anybody in the restaurant singing along with them to familiar tunes and dancing like no one cared.

As of today, we have managed to raise over $4000.oo with more donations being mailed in from supporters who could not be here or merely heard about the event but live too far to travel. I am truly humbled by the support shown for this event, and I can promise you that it has motivated me to make it grow next year!  First and foremost, thank you to everyone that showed up to show their support! I want to personally thank all of the employees of Bellini for coming together and turning a normal night of making money into a selfless team effort. To my wife, Astyn, for working just as hard as I did in helping promote the day and pull all the last minute things together and most imortantly, for keeping me sane and never failing to support me. To Joe & John Spina for allowing the event to take place and their continued support. To 1st Sgt Darden and the Marines of 2nd Battalion 23rd Marines, semper fi! To the Marines from 1st Marines 4th Battalion (you know who you are:-) ). To the companies that donated for the raffle; KO fitness Westlake/Fantasy Tan, Westlake Golf Course, Red Robin, Brazuka Coffee, John of Italy Day Spa & Salon, 24 Hour fitness and John Diguiseppe. Congratulations to the winners of the raffle (if you have not been contacted, dont worry you will;-) ) and congratulations to Rick Zeilenga for winning the Ventura Beach House Vacation for giving the highest donation for the day!  Thank you to Julie, Joyce and the rest of the Stanton family, you are an inspiration!!!

Thank you to the Wounded Warrior Project for giving the OK on the charity event, to the men and women of the United States Armed Services, near far past present,  for tirelessly working day in and day out in order to make sure our country sleeps safe at night. And finally, thank you Corporal Jordan Robert Stanton, for making the ultimate sacrafice. You served with honor and pride and will always be in our hearts, Semper Fidelis.

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