Your meal at Salute E Vita Ristorante in Richmond’s Marina Bay on Wednesday won’t only be delicious, it will provide much-needed funds for protecting victims of domestic violence.
Menbere Aklilu, owner of Richmond’s popular Salute E Vita Ristorante at 1900 Esplanade Dr., has pledged to donate 10-percent of her restaurant’s proceeds on Wednesday, March 8, to the West County Family Justice Center in honor of International Women’s Day.
A domestic violence survivor and well-known community philanthropist, Aklilu helped the Family Justice Center — an all-inclusive resource center for victims and their families at 256 24th St. — open in 2015 after contributing a check for $15,000. The following year, she contributed another $20,000 and held multiple fundraising events for the center from her restaurant.
The pledge to contribute 10-percent of Salute’s proceeds on International Women’s Day this year comes with a hope: that others join her in providing funding to the Family Justice Center, which she says is vital to the community.
The issue is close to Aklilu’s heart. Aklilu’s harrowing past as a domestic violence survivor and single, homeless mother has been well documented. She was raised in Ethiopia, where she witnessed her mother, who ran a hotel and restaurant, being murdered by a customer over an unpaid bill. She would later become the victim of domestic violence while living in Italy. After years of abuse, she sneaked out of her home in the middle of the night and found herself alone in the streets of Rome while 8 months pregnant.
She eventually wandered into a women’s shelter run by the Mother Teresa Sisters, where she gave birth to her son, Christian.
“When I was being abused, I stayed; I had nowhere to go, no one to help me,” Aklilu said in a statement. “With a space like the Family Justice Center, I know where to bring women who need a way out of an abusive relationship.”
Aside from her work with the Family Justice Center, Aklilu hosts more than 1,000 homeless people and families in need for a fine dining experience at her restaurant on Thanksgiving Day. She also holds etiquette courses for young girls from low-income families, among other programs. In 2015, she received the prestigious Jefferson Award honoring community volunteerism.