White House Restaurant owner Bruno Serato held a contest this summer to give away 12 luncheons — each valued at $4,000 — to charities to help them raise money.
But Serato was so touched by the applications that he announced Wednesday night to a restaurant full of applicants that virtually every nonprofit organization that applied was a winner. In the end, he gave away 200 luncheons, valued at a total of at least $800,000.
The luncheons, each for 100 guests, will take place weekly beginning in January in the award-winning Italian restaurant's banquet room, known as the West Wing. The giveaway will run through 2015.
"The first application was from an organization for children with brain injuries — and I thought, there's a winner," Serato said.
"The next was for children without parents and without tutoring. Before I knew it, there were 50 that were deserving, then 100. All of these applications just so touched my heart that I had to give more."
Each of the 200 giveaways includes use of the restaurant's private banquet room, a three-course lunch and nonalcoholic beverages. Such a luncheon at the restaurant would usually cost around $2,000 to rent the space and $20 to $25 per plate, equaling at least $4,000.
The winners can use the restaurant to host charity fundraisers, allowing for them to make pure profit for each of their causes.
Many winners, such as the Friendly Center and Los Niños de los Calles con Wendy, came from Orange County. But some, such as Pioneering Unique Cures of Kids from Minnesota, are based elsewhere.
Serato runs his own charity, Catarina's Club, which feeds 50,000 children a year. Earlier this year, Serato was named a CNN Hero by the cable-news station for his charity work.
"I may have been named a hero, but last night I was surrounded by hundreds of heroes when I made the announcement to all of the charities," Serato said. "They are all doing good for others, and I want to do what I can to help good people."