For a dozen years, Bruno Serato has given so much to others, feeding thousands of needy children for free every day at the Anaheim White House restaurant, an Orange County fixture for three decades. The community was giving back to him Thursday after his restaurant was destroyed in a fire over the weekend.
"I'm excited for today. It's going to be my first day back after 24 hours," Serato said. "I'm back to work for the kids."
Serato came back to the White House restaurant Thursday after a devastating fire swept through it Saturday. The cause of the fire still wasn't clear as of Monday.
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The restaurant represents much more than just a place to grab a bite to eat though.
Serato is an Italian immigrant who came to the United States with just $200 and worked his way up from busboy to restaurant owner. His mother made sure he never forgot what it's like to go hungry.
When she saw a young boy eating potato chips for dinner, she told Serato to make him a plate of pasta. That was 12 years ago. Today his charity Caterina's Club, named after his mother, feeds 2,000 needy children a day in 15 cities. He also helps homeless families move out of motels and trains inner-city kids how to work in the restaurant industry.
He still can't quite believe his life's work has been destroyed by fire.
The fast-moving blaze destroyed nearly everything inside, except for his most prized possession: a rosary given to him by Pope Francis. He's grateful to the firefighters who sifted through the rubble until they found it.
"They didn't give up. They looked for my rosary in the way they were looking for life," he said.
But he said his first thoughts were finding new jobs for his employees and how to continue feeding the children.
"Should I complain that I got this fire and it's destroyed? No, the next day I said I want to go back to feeding the kids, a lot of people depend on me, a lot of children depend on me," Serato said.
The love from the community was coming back to him with nearly a dozen offers of donated kitchen space so he can continue his charity work.
He pressed on Thursday, cooking and feeding kids at the Highway 39 Event Center.
"I don't think any other human can do one-tenth of what he does so this is a chance for us to help on something we wouldn't normally do," said Michael Keener of the Highway 39 Event Center.
Other restaurants have also stepped up to hire his employees who will be out of work until the White House can be rebuilt.
"I'm thankful from bottom of my heart. The love has been pouring like crazy," Serato said.
The Highway 39 Event Center will hold a fundraiser for Serato's charity Feb. 20.
If you would like to donate to a GoFundMe account set up to help the Anaheim White House, you may do so here. Note that GoFundMe deducts 7.9 percent of all funds raised in the form of platform and payment processing charges.