Tag Archives | charity

No Kid Hungry

As a mom, it saddens me deeply to think of the children here in America who go hungry every day.  I was shocked to learn that 1 in 5 children are hungry in America… yes, America.

This is why I’m happy to partner with Romano’s Macaroni Grill and the Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign to do something about this tragic epidemic.

By sharing my favorite Italian meal and story with you, we’re connecting at least 500 children with meals from this program.  You can also visit Macaroni Grill and donate $2 to the No Kid Hungry Campaign, and you’ll receive $5 off your next meal there.

When I tried to decide on which Italian meal to share from my recipe box, I quickly remembered the story of my friend, Kelli who taught me how to make her traditional Italian Sunday Gravy.  I’m also sharing my story of Kelli and I and our diverse east coast-west coast heritage.

So, here’s my recipe for Italian Sunday Gravy, based on the teachings of my dear friend, Kelli:

Italian Sunday Gravy

Italian Sunday Gravy


  • ground beef or sirloin- 1 lb
  • boneless pork loin chops- 1 lb
  • italian mild sausage- 1 lb
  • onion- 1, minced
  • parmesan cheese- 16 oz.
  • breadcrumbs- 1 cup
  • egg- 1
  • milk- 1/2 cup
  • garlic- 3-4 cloves, minced
  • olive oil
  • crushed tomatoes- 56 oz. (2 28oz. cans)
  • fresh basil and/or Italian parsley- a handful, chopped
  • pasta- 1-2 lbs


  1. in mixing bowl, combine ground beef, half of minced onion, half of parmesan (grated), breadcrumbs, egg and milk; mix well
  2. hand-roll meat into 2-inch balls
  3. heat olive oil and garlic in large non-stick skillet
  4. cook meatball in oil until brown (no need to cook thoroughly), while turning gently with a spoon to make sure all sides are browned
  5. remove cooked meatballs to plate
  6. brown pork chops and remove to plate (again, no need to cook thoroughly)
  7. brown Italian sausage and remove to plate
  8. transfer juices from skillet to large Dutch oven or pot along with tomatoes and browned meat
  9. add chopped basil and/or parsley
  10. simmer 2-3 hours over low heat
  11. served with pasta boiled in salted water until tender and then drained; to prevent pasta from drying before serving, reserve a cup of the cooking water to add back to pasta


Italian Sunday Dinner

Italian Sunday Dinner

And here is our story:

Italian Family Traditions

My neighbor, Kelli, and I grew up worlds apart- both geographically and culturally. I grew up in Southern California while eating dinners made from modern conveniences such as Minute Rice and Betty Crocker with my new-age Mom. While at the same time, Kelli was peeling and canning tomatoes for pasta sauce in the kitchens of Italian aunts and nonnas in New York. Despite being exactly one-quarter Italian myself, my Sicilian-born grandmother died decades before I was born.

Sadly, after 10 years of being a neighbor and dear friend, Kelli moved back to New York. But she did leave something behind (besides her husband)- her family recipe for Italian Sunday Gravy.

Now, for me the word “gravy” is something you pour over turkey and mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. But, if you’re from the “old country”, gravy is a traditional Sunday dish that women could put in a pot early Sunday morning and let it simmer while attending Mass. Italian Sunday gravy is a rich, heavy meal of meats that simmer in tomato sauce so long, it’s hard to tell where the meat ends and the sauce begins.

italian red sauce recipe

Italian Sunday Gravy Recipe

Making Sunday Gravy isn’t as difficult as I thought; and, if your kids love to cook as much as mine do, rolling meatballs is the perfect task for little hands. After selecting a variety of meats like pork chops, Italian sausage links, veal cutlets and/or ground sirloin for meatballs, the meat is browned in olive oil and garlic then added to crushed tomatoes in a large Dutch oven. After simmering in the tomatoes for hours, the meat is then removed to a platter and served separately from the sauce alongside pasta, bread and salad.

Italian Sunday dinner recipe

To further illuminate the differences in our culinary traditions, I typically eat salad first with bread then an entrée… and all within the time span of about 20 minutes. While the tradition of eating Italian Sunday Gravy is an all-afternoon event lasting about 2-3 hours, from pasta aglio e olio (pasta with garlic, olive oil and crushed peppers) and red table wine, the salad is actually eaten after the pasta. The big finale, or course, is cannoli and coffee.

Imagine that… hours of uninterrupted time just relaxing and enjoying food and family- a la familia!

Italian Sunday dinner

And, while I’m used to meat being in the pasta sauce, Sunday gravy is served with the meat removed from the sauce onto a separate platter. It’s also typically eaten early enough in the day to allow for proper digestion of its heavy ingredients, thus making it the perfect Sunday after-church meal.

Combining my favorite herbs such as basil and parsley, check out my version of this traditional Italian dinner recipe.


So while this West Coast girl and her family sat down to enjoy Italian Gravy this Sunday, I could swear I heard the theme song from The Godfather playing in the background.

still some “west coast” going on this photo, with that “after swimming pool” hair!

No Kid Hungry Campaign on Facebook– How You Can Help!

If you’re a Facebook friend, visit the Macaroni Grill gallery on Facebook and find a campaign photo to share on your Facebook page (simply click on the photo and select the word “share” underneath the photo), and Macaroni Grill will connect a meal to a kid in need for each “share”.

Select an image from this gallery and “share” on your timeline for an additional $1 donation.



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Eat Your Greens to Give Some Green

Providing Healthy Choices

This is one fundraising event I’m very happy to support and promote.  I know so many other mothers, like myself, who are proponents of change and healthier food choices in our schools today, as I write about in Weighing In on Weight of The Nation.

So, I hope each of them- and you- will visit your local Whole Foods Market on Sunday September 9th to eat from their healthy selection of market food.  For every pound of food purchased from the salad bar and hot food bar that day, Whole Foods Market will donate $1 to get salad bars in local schools.


And for all of my Twitter friends- for every “retweet” on Sunday about this fundraising event, Whole Foods Market will donate an addition $1!- tweet!… I mean, sweet!

Be sure to follow your local Whole Foods Market Twitter handle or @ToniSpilsbury, @OrganizedCook, @VegasBloggers and follow the stream #WFMSaladDay which will be tweeting out event details all day.



So, this Sunday you’ll find me and the kids at Whole Foods Market at The District having a healthy and delicious late afternoon lunch… hope to see you all there!



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What’s A Ladybug Ball?

Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation Celebrates its Third Annual Ladybug Ball

This year, Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation celebrated our third Annual Ladybug Ball at Aria Resort, the flagship hotel in the heart of City Center, Las Vegas.  Celebrity chefs and entertainment delighted our more than 300 guests while helping to raise money for the only charity in Nevada for children who are blind.


The most beautiful ladies of the evening- my mom, Rae Ann Parri, daughter, Rayana Barnes and BFF, Noelle Rodriguez


3rd Annual Ladybug Ball at Aria Hotel


Local news celebrities, Kim and Dana Wagner from NBC’s “Wake Up With The Wagners” emceed the ball again.  As strong community supporters, Kim and Dana bring a lot of enthusiasm and laughter to any event.

Local news celebrities and Ladybug Ball emcees, Kim and Dana Wagner


Gourmet chefs designed each course and spoke to the audience about each of their individual culinary creations. Chef Megan Romano, owner of local Chocolate and Spice Bakery, topped off dinner with a homemade snickers that had everyone buzzing.

Homemade Snickers Bar from Chef Megan Romano


The evening’s silent auction was a success; I took home a few gems myself- literally.

Silent Auction


What is a Ladybug Ball and how did it begin?

So, where does the ladybug fit into the picture, and how did Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation get its start?  These are the most common questions I receive from residents of one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. when learning of our mission to build resources for the underserved population of Nevada’s blind youth.

I often tell the story of that defining moment when the idea for Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation was conceived.  Frustrated by the lack of services for children who are blind and their families in Nevada, and exhausted from hunting down and piecing together any information, I concluded that our family would need to move to another state in order for our son, Connor, to receive the appropriate resources for his disability.  I selected Phoenix as my first choice because of the incredible resources, school inclusion programs and experts in the area of educating children who are blind.

No, if there’s no school or services here,” my husband responded, “we’re going to stay and build one.”  Sigh.  When my husband, Kevin, makes a statement like this, he means it.  As a fourth generation Nevadan and business owner, Kevin felt it was his duty to stay here and build something for other families dealing with the same lack of expertise and services, as well as the many families and children to come.

In 2005, Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation opened its doors to the first resource library, technology center, parent resource group and services to children who are blind in Nevada and their families.

Volunteer of the Year Award, appropriately titled the “Hinden Award”


NBCF Directors, Linda Maneen and Lori Moroz-White pose with friends and family including Lori’s daughter, Nikki White (center), who is blind


Noelle’s father and Las Vegas plastic surgeon, Dr. Benjamin Rodriguez- the fact I was able to get this man on the dance floor is a miracle.


May is National Blindness Awareness Month; and thanks to former mayor, Oscar Goodman, it’s also Nevada Blind Children’s Awareness Month (as of 2007).  May is also the time of year when ladybugs emerge to delight gardeners and bug lovers, like my Brooke.

I was part of the process and panel to choose our logo and mascot for NBCF.  And while looking at the mock-up of the ladybug logo, began to wonder about the black dots on the ladybug’s wings.  I wondered if the dots on a ladybug meant something.

There are several myths about the meaning of a ladybug’s black dots.  For example, it’s an old wive’s tale that if a ladybug lands on a young woman it foretells how many children she’ll have by the number of spots on it.  Some farmers believe that a ladybug’s dots can predict the success of the following season’s harvest.

So, much in the same way a person who is blind relies on little dots to read and learn, a ladybug is fabled to use black dots to communicate information as well.

Virginia Valentine and friends- I love this photo of these lovely ladies who came dressed in their best ladybug red!


NBCF Board Chairman, Robert Anderson Esq., spoke about how the foundation got its start and the importance of the evening’s event to raise money for programs


The Ladybug Ball

Just a few years after adopting the ladybug as the official mascot for NBCF, we held our first Ladybug Ball at the Las Vegas Design Center at World Market.  And last year, our 2011 Ladybug Ball was held at the stunning Bellagio Hotel.

The Epicurean Charitable Foundation was NBCF’s 2012 Conner Award Honoree and have been major supporters of NBCF, even providing the evening’s food and beverage through local foundation members and students from UNLV’s culinary department.  The Conner Award was created in 2010 to honor supporters of Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation, and was named after its founder, Conner Spilsbury.

Gourmet menu was designed by local celebrity chefs and prepared by UNLV culinary students


Event sponsor awards


The beautiful Aria Resort was the backdrop of this year’s Ladybug Ball, which would not have been possible or such a huge success without the hard work and dedication of Directors, Lori Moroz-White and Linda Maneen, along with Leslie Jones.

This event would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of these two ladies, Lori White and Linda Maneen, along with Leslie Jones (not pictured here)



Nikki White delivers an amazing vocal performance.


Board Members Kelly and Leslie Jones are responsible, in very large part, to the success of the Ladybug Ball

Raising Money for Programs

Why is this event so important?  The Ladybug Ball is the biggest fundraising event for Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation.  With only two employees, the foundation relies on volunteers and community supporters to keep programs open and available for children who are blind in Clark County.  The money raised in one evening will fund our after school homework help program, technology classes, Braille library and playgroups along with our fun annual programs for the kids like Beeper Baseball, Beepin Egg Hunt and Holiday Party for an entire year.

To learn more about the importance of NBCF program, listen to the parents and children themselves:


The School

Because Everyone Needs Their Own Spot.  Nevada is one of two states in the U.S. with no school for the blind, and I can write another chapter on what this means for children who are blind in Nevada and their families.  The bottom line, however, is that it means a lack of expertise in our state for educating and mainstreaming children who are blind.  It also means that many parents are making the decision to move away from extended family and friends to other states so their children can receive the appropriate services.


NBCF Director, Linda Maneen, said it best when she described that in order for any child to compete in a classroom today, they must possess and master the basic technology and social media skills.  This is just one of the reasons funding for NBCF programs is so important, because it’s the only place that teaches these skills specifically to blind children.


The Goods

Guests went home with some goodies in a reusable NBCF bag (which I still use for grocery shopping), with items ranging from Patron Tequila, containers from the Container Store, beaded necklaces, gourmet popcorn and, my favorite- Real Water.

Look who’s “Getting Real”!


Event Photos

For a complete stream of the evening’s photos from local photographer, Jennie Slade Photography, visit Ladybug Ball 2012 Photos.  We want to thank Jennie for capturing the evening’s success in just the right “light”.


What You Can Do

For more information about how you can help make the difference in the lives of Nevada’s children who are blind and their families, visit nvblindchildren.org.

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It’s Christmas Time at Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation

The elves are busy planning this year’s festivities for the kids at Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation.  Our “elves” are volunteers from the local community, and along with foundation directors, Lori Moroz-White and Linda Maneen we have many needs when it comes to putting together this important annual event.

Our Annual Holiday Party is a day-long event for children who are blind with planned activities like Snow Play, Christmas Caroling, Games, Descriptive Christmas Movie and… the best part- decorating homemade gingerbread men.  Why is this the best part?  Okay, it could be because I bake them fresh each year and enjoy helping the kids place gumdrop buttons, cinnamon candy eyes and coconut hair on their gingerbread man.

Parents would tell you they look forward to the annual party for different reasons.  The party gives parents a day of respite to do Christmas shopping or whatever else they need or want to do, and this is plenty of reason to rejoice.  Where many parents may take for granted the ease of finding someone to watch their child for a day, parents of children who are blind or handicapped may find it exceptionally more difficult.

Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation creates an exciting and fun-filled day for children who may otherwise not be included in any holiday events.  These children look forward to this event all year long; I know my Connor does.  As a parent of a child who is blind, I can’t describe the feeling when your child has a place and event specially for him.  All year long it’s a struggle to modify activities and events to meet Connor’s needs, and this is one event where I don’t have to worry about that.

NBCF Founder, my Connor Spilsbury, with Director, Lori Moroz-White

Let The Baking Begin

I make my gingerbread from scratch with molasses, ground ginger and all.  Yes, homemade is tastier, but it’s also lending to the sensory experience for these children.  These kids may not be able to see their gingerbread creation, but they’ll never forget that smell of fresh homemade gingerbread.

The first thing I’ll need to do is reorganize my baking cupboard.  Every year about this time I tackle this dreaded task- and believe me- after just one year, my baking cupboard is in desperate need of help.  I’ve found so many inspirational tips and suggestions for organizing a baking cupboard on websites like Pinterest, that I’m actually looking forward to it this year, so stay tuned for my upcoming “before and after” annual transformation.

You Can Help

The next thing we’ll need is to gather our resources in the community.  To create the most memorable holiday party yet, we are still in need of the following:

  1. Lunch donation from a local restaurant of pizza or sandwiches with drinks with the kids and volunteers
  2. Gift bags or stockings filled with items like Play Doh, Slinky’s, candy canes, Dominos, bouncy balls and lip balm (for older kids).
  3. Volunteers to help with activities.

If you would like to donate, please contact Linda Maneen at lmaneen@nvblindchildren.org or call 702-735-NBCF (6223); and you can always contact me directly with questions or ideas at toni@tonispilsbury.com.

Connor entertains the group by dancing along to Christmas carols

playing in pretend snow is a fun sensory experience for the kids

Christmas caroling lyrics in Braille

movies in Descriptive Video (DVR) were donated last year by Bank of America to the kids at NBCF

Thank You Bank of America


Many of you who know me are aware of our mission to build the first school for the blind in Nevada as one of only two states in the U.S. currently with no school for the blind.  In 2006, we opened the doors to Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation with the first-ever library for children who are blind, technology center and resource library for parents.  As a parent of a child who is blind, I can tell you first hand what it’s like to not have a place in the community where you can go to for resources.

Happy Holidays!

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