Barely one month after opening their Naples restaurant Sea Salt in 2007, Ingrid and Fabrizio Aielli began hosting an annual Christmas Eve lunch for underprivileged children. The kids, residents of Youth Haven, a local homeless shelter, are treated to a multicourse Italian feast, after which a friend of the couple, dressed as Santa Claus, hands out presents.
But even Ingrid, who serves the meal herself, can sometimes forget just how deprived the children are. One year, a friend dropped off blankets for them. Ingrid was bemused until she saw one little boy, perhaps six years old, wrap himself in the blanket, continuing to wear it even while eating lunch.
“It was like a security blanket,” says Ingrid. “And I realized what my friend had meant by [her gift].”
At first the Aiellis paid for the presents themselves, but in 2008 they started the tradition of hosting a holiday cocktail party at which they collect gifts. At the lunch, Santa calls each child by name to receive the brightly wrapped packages. “We want to make sure that they feel very special, that they don’t feel forgotten,” Ingrid says.
The Aiellis met at the wedding of friends, in what was then Czechoslovakia—her friend was the bride and his was the groom. After emigrating to the United States, they opened the first of three Washington, D.C., restaurants, Goldoni, in 1995. Fabrizio, a native of Venice, Italy, was the chef and Ingrid the manager.
Since moving to Naples, they have become heavily involved in charity work. They auction off chef’s table dinners at both local food and wine festivals to benefit children’s charities, and Ingrid serves on the advisory board of Angels Undercover, a nonprofit that supplies poor students at 17 Collier County elementary schools with necessary clothing.
The Aiellis, who are in the process of adopting a boy from Slovakia, give to many other causes as well, including Make-A-Wish Southern Florida. “Helping those children, we’re really helping the future,” says Ingrid, “because they are the future.”