That all changed in 2004 when my mom passed away. I grew up in a tight-knit Italian family -- with the added benefit of my Nonna being my second mother -- that stressed the importance of eating every meal together and looking out for one another. I knew immediately that I wanted to do something to keep her memory alive.
She died of cancer at the young age of 57. She had a rare syndrome called Peutz-Jeghers (PJS) and, statistically speaking, half of all people with PJS die at that age of cancer.
She battled cancer for the better part of 10 years, refusing to relent or let the disease get the best of her. Like all of us, I'm sure she was afraid to die, but my mother did this for us. Even in her sickest days, she did everything she could to take care of us. She was the most selfless and loving woman you could possibly imagine.
The only concrete items I have to remember her by are her cookbooks and recipes.
Many of you may know this already. What you may not know, though, is that I also have PJS. My own mortality is something that hangs over my head more each day as I count down the months until I turn 40.
There is an even chance that my children will only be in their 20s when I am no longer around and I want to leave them much more than a collection of cookbooks and recipes.
I want to provide them with direct connections to their lineage and stability. I want to build up a legacy that I can hand over to them in the form of a family business that they could someday take over. I've asked them if they want this, and they do.
So, when my Nonna passed in 2016, it pushed me to take the plunge. I worked my butt off for the last year building up Valente's into what it is today, which is only a small glimpse into what it someday could become -- and I have 17 years to continue working my butt off to make that happen.
I love cooking but I love my family more than anything. That's what pushed me through the 3 a.m. shifts and waking up early in the morning to make it to the market. It kept me going as I tried my damndest to learn the business side of things, which my brain is not naturally wired to do. It kept me up most nights, thinking of how I could grow and improve. Most of all, it pushed me through every setback I had and every dark night where it seemed like there would be no tomorrow.
Right now, Valente's is at a point where it needs to expand to survive. We need a full time facility to produce and sell our goods and services. Our limited time and storage in a church kitchen has been helpful but is maxed out.
So, I spent nine months writing, rewriting, revising, and reinventing my business plan in hopes of getting a six-figure loan to do just this. However, while the bank tried their damnedest to work with me, it seems like this is no longer a viable option.
This is why I have to turn to my supportive community of family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers to make even a fraction of this happen.
Any bit of money I can raise puts me one step closer to making the dreams of keeping my family's memories and building a future for my children a reality.
I am hoping to raise $20,000 to get a scaled-back Valente's going. It may seem like a monstrous sum but it's really a fraction of what I originally needed.
These funds will be spent on outfitting a kitchen, fees to the borough, architect, engineer, attorney. A portion of the money will be set aside as contingency funds for unexpected expenses and slow times where I may need a little extra to pay the bills.
GoFundMe asks you to explain how soon you need the funds and, sadly, the answer is basically now. We were under the impression our loan status was in a better place and are currently in the process of negotiating a lease on a modest place to run the business.
It's impossible to measure just how much your support means to me and my family. I don't want to do this. I really don't. I'm gut-wrenched right now and, if I was doing Valente's just because it was my dream, I wouldn't resort to this. But this is not about me. It's about my kids, and the amazing matriarchs in my family. It's for them that I am swallowing my pride and doing this. Just like them, your support means the world to me.
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