Restaurant Does Its Part to Support Seriously Ill Children

(Monday, June 30, 2008 9:42 AM EDT)
It's swimsuit season, and for many people, diet foods are in and desserts are out. But if you find yourself craving something sweet, Portabellos American Café in Arlington has just the excuse for you to indulge in a delectable dessert.

Portabellos is now donating $1 from every dessert it sells, as well as $5 from every gift certificate sold, to Starlight MidAtlantic, a local children's charity.

“I want to support a charity because, personally, I want to give back to the community,” said Portabellos owner M.J. Hussein.

“When people come in, they don't just get a good meal,” but they're also supporting children in need, he said.

Starlight MidAtlantic's mission is to “bring joy to seriously ill children and their families,” said the organization's executive director, Cara Martin.

The programs it offers helps all family members to handle their pain, fear and loneliness through entertainment, education and activities, both in and out of the hospital.

“I like being able to help kids who are terminally ill,” Hussein said. “I want [the money] to go to those who really need it.”

One of the most popular programs Starlight offers in the hospitals is its Fun Centers. These interactive and portable entertainment units can be placed right by a child's bed and are equipped with a flat-screen television, DVD player and a Nintendo Wii.

Starlight also hosts on-site parties and entertainment through Hospital Happenings, which provides opportunities ranging from crafting to watching a musician perform.

For children who are well enough, Starlight provides Great Escapes, a program that organizes out-of-hospital recreational events like cooking classes, ice skating and trips to Kings Dominion.

The non-profit serves more than 250 hospitals in Virginia, Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Pennsylvania; Deleware; and West Virginia; and serves about 18,000 children each month.

“Everything is free of charge,” thanks to donations and the generosity of businesses, Martin said.

“We are so grateful for Portabellos, not only for the recurring monetary stream, but because they're also getting the word out,” she said. “We're [the area's] best-kept secret.”

Since the partnership kicked off, Hussein has been able to donate about $160 a month to Starlight, but he hopes to increase his numbers.

“I'm hoping, dreaming big, that we give $5,000 a year,” he said.

For more information on Portabellos' partnership with Starlight MidAtlantic, see the Web sites at and

Portabellos recently was honored by the Starlight Foundation for its commitment to their initiative. Shown are Starlight MidAtlantic executive director Cara Martin, Starlight teen ambassador Brittany Sullivan, Starry the Mascot and Portabellos owner M.J. Hussein.

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