Meet The 59-Year-Old Chef Who's Feeding 1,400 Needy Children Each Day

Bruno
I recently interviewed Bruno Serato, an Italian who emigrated from Verona to America 30 years ago. In retrospect Skype was the perfect media choice because Bruno is a larger-than-life, animated, gregarious fellow, who's best enjoyed face-to-face. Bruno's a chef who has owned The White House restaurant, a landmark in Anaheim, California, in Orange County, for 27 years.

A Mother's Influence
Bruno was 49 in 2005 when his mother, Caterina visited from Italy. Bruno was volunteering at the local Boys and Girls Club where he brought his mother late one afternoon. It was dinnertime and Caterina noticed a boy eating a small bag of potato chips. When Bruno asked the club director why the boy was eating potato chips for dinner the director said he was probably a "motel kid", an expression Bruno had never heard before. The motel kids are children from families living in Section-8 housing, which includes motels. California designates motel families as homeless. These children had spent their after-school hours and weekends at the Boys and Girls Club until recently when budget cuts forced the Club to close at 5 p.m. during the week and remain closed on weekends.

"Motel Kids"
The director further explained that millions of kids in America of every race are living in motels because their families, while not necessarily poor since many parents have jobs, simply can't afford the first and last month's rent and security deposit required for leasing an apartment. And since motels don't have kitchens, kids don't get home-cooked meals. Each motel room typically houses seven to nine family members, and the children frequently eat from vending machines. Not surprisingly motel kids generally do poorly in school, due in part to deficient diet and lack of a quiet space to study.

A Million Meals
Bruno's mother was appalled these children weren't getting nutritious meals, and she encouraged Bruno to feed them. Bruno agreed, and a few days later he delivered the first meals to the Boys and Girls Club, enough freshly cooked pasta and tomato sauce to feed 20 to 30 children. The news spread quickly and the number grew to 100 children overnight. Today Bruno is feeding 1,400 children a day. And 20 local Chapman College volunteers are delivering 25 pounds of uncooked pasta a day to mobile home parks where families have kitchens. Last month Bruno's program reached the one-million-meals-served mark, an extraordinary accomplishment for a solo effort.

Bruno employs three, full-time kitchen staff to cook 90 pounds of pasta and 15 gallons of tomato sauce daily, and he's delivering food to 20 locations in 10 cities in Orange County now. Several times a year Bruno brings 300-400 children at a time to eat at his restaurant so they can experience fine dining and get a sense of what's possible.

Digging Deep
During the recession of 2009, Bruno's restaurant business dropped 40 percent. Two of his customers who had made $5,000-a-year donations ended up living in motels. But the children still needed to eat, so Bruno mortgaged his restaurant and home in order to continue feeding the children. He has since remortgaged both, a fact he mentioned reluctantly only after I asked how he's made ends meet.

More Generosity
Bruno started another program seven years ago, The Welcome Home Project, which is aimed at families living in motels when one or both parents have jobs. He gives motel families $3,000-$4,000 to cover the first and last month's rent, plus security deposit. Bruno self-funded The Welcome Home Project, which moved 85 families, 500 people, into apartments in the first two years. Caterina's Club, named after Bruno's mother, who died a month short of her 90th birthday last year, is now set up to accept donations, at www.caterinasclub.org.

Good Grief
Bruno has a third project in the works. He's teaching children the hospitality business so when they're teenagers and need to work they'll have restaurant skills. Beginning this September Bruno is offering a free, eight-week course in the restaurant industry to the children he's fed for 10 years.

An Inspiration
In response to Bruno's program, Barilla, the giant Italian pasta manufacturer, decided to sponsor a program similar to his in their New York and Chicago restaurants. Barilla has already donated 10 tons of pasta from their restaurants to feed children.

Heroism Defined
I was sorry when the interview ended. Bruno's enthusiasm, energy, and optimism are a joy to experience. Bruno's heart is truly gold, which thousands of well-fed children in Orange County will gladly attest to.

Bruno's reaction to my use of the word hero to describe him was similar to every hero I've interviewed. "I'm no hero, I just couldn't watch hungry children and do nothing." Also like the other heroes, Bruno hasn't a shred of ego. He only agreed to be interviewed to raise public awareness about America's hungry children. At 59, Bruno Serato is an ordinary man doing extraordinary things. A million meals is a Herculean feat for an individual. Bruno Serato fits anyone's definition of heroism.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

  • Betty White
    Doesn't it seem like Betty White has been around since David torpedoed Goliath with a slingshot? Our favorite golden girl is
    AP
    Doesn't it seem like Betty White has been around since David torpedoed Goliath with a slingshot? Our favorite golden girl is only 94 though. Even though Miss Betty White began her career in the 1940s on radio, and later appeared on late night talk shows and game shows (including "Password") in the 50s and 60s, she wasn't really a household name until, at the age of 51, she began playing "The Happy Homemaker" Sue Ann Nivens on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (1973-1977).
  • Morgan Freeman
    Who doesn't love Morgan Freeman? This Academy Award winner paid his dues and then some. Freeman worked for several years as a
    Getty
    Who doesn't love Morgan Freeman? This Academy Award winner paid his dues and then some. Freeman worked for several years as an actor, but really came into his own playing chauffeur Hoke Colburn in "Driving Miss Daily" at the age of 52 (although he was 50 when he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in the film "Street Smart").
  • Sharon Osbourne
    Heavy metal vocalist Ozzy Osbourne has been famous for over 40 years as lead singer of the English band Black Sabbath. His wi
    Getty
    Heavy metal vocalist Ozzy Osbourne has been famous for over 40 years as lead singer of the English band Black Sabbath. His wife, Sharon, however, did not become a household name until their family reality show "The Osbournes" premiered on MTV in 2002. Just barely 50, Sharon became a media darling, which opened up many doors. She went on to become a judge on "America's Got Talent" and has been co-host of the CBS daytime show "The Talk" since it debuted in October 2010.
  • Regis Philbin
    Regis Philbin was comedian Joey Bishop's sidekick on the ABC television show "The Joey Bishop Show" from 1967 to 1969 and hos
    Getty
    Regis Philbin was comedian Joey Bishop's sidekick on the ABC television show "The Joey Bishop Show" from 1967 to 1969 and hosted his own local talk show -- "A.M. Los Angeles" -- from 1975 to 1983. But his name wasn't exactly on the tip of our collective tongues until he became a daytime staple with Kathie Lee Gifford in 1988 on "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee" when he was 57. His vibrant, caustic, yet fun-loving personality pushed him over the top sometime after the show began to gain in popularity with daytime viewers.
  • Abe Vigoda
    Born in 1921, Abe Vigoda captured the role of Salvatore Tessio in the film "The Godfather" in 1972 at the age of 51. His next
    Getty
    Born in 1921, Abe Vigoda captured the role of Salvatore Tessio in the film "The Godfather" in 1972 at the age of 51. His next big role came in 1975 when he signed on to play Sgt. Phil Fish on the television series "Barney Miller." And that's when Vigoda -- who passed away in 2016 -- really became a household name.
  • Tom Bergeron
    Sure, Tom Bergeron became the host of "Hollywood Squares" in 1998 and of "America's Funniest Home Videos" in 2001, 
    Getty
    Sure, Tom Bergeron became the host of "Hollywood Squares" in 1998 and of "America's Funniest Home Videos" in 2001, but he didn't really become widely known until joining the wildly popular "Dancing With the Stars." The amiable host was 50 when the show premiered in 2005. After more than 20 seasons as host, it appears he's a keeper.
  • Mike Wallace
    Maybe Mike Wallace was well-known in some hard-core news circles, and perhaps he was on a first-name basis with a few news ju
    Getty
    Maybe Mike Wallace was well-known in some hard-core news circles, and perhaps he was on a first-name basis with a few news junkies many moons ago, but it wasn't until he laid his groundwork as a superb gotcha reporter on "60 Minutes" which he did from 1968 (after he turned 50) until 2008 -- that his star really began to shine. This well-respected news journalist sadly passed away on April 7, 2012 at the age of 93.
  • Samuel L. Jackson
    Born in 1948, Samuel L. Jackson appeared in more than 100 films before the age of 40. However, it was only after he landed th
    Gabe Ginsberg via Getty Images
    Born in 1948, Samuel L. Jackson appeared in more than 100 films before the age of 40. However, it was only after he landed the role of a hitman in "Pulp Fiction" in 1994 that his star really began to shine. For this performance, Jackson received a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
  • Andy Rooney
    Andy Rooney is another personality that seems to have been around since the beginning of time, and we're all glad to have bee
    Getty
    Andy Rooney is another personality that seems to have been around since the beginning of time, and we're all glad to have been the recipients of his off-the-wall satirical takes on human nature. In 1978, at the age of 59, Rooney began his "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney" segment on the CBS news show "60 Minutes," continuing through 2011. He made us laugh, he made us cry, he made us think. It doesn't get better than that. Rooney died on November 4, 2011 at the age of 92 only a few weeks after his last appearance on the show. 
  • Joy Behar
    Joy Behar was 54 when she was cast as one of the original members of "The View," which made its debut in August 1997. A few y
    Getty
    Joy Behar was 54 when she was cast as one of the original members of "The View," which made its debut in August 1997. A few years before that, you could catch Behar doing hilarious stand-up comedy on television. But she only became a household name sometime after "The View" became a must-see, daytime television talk show.