Two hours before opening time Saturday, diners already
crowded a sunny nook in the dining room at the Naglee Road Applebee’s restaurant
Managers opened the eatery early for the second consecutive
weekend to host a pancake breakfast to raise money for the family of a former
employee, 20-year-old Diana Villanueva, who was killed Nov. 10 in a car crash.
The last breakfast brought in $340 for the Villanueva
family, while the second Dec. 1 event raised about $500, though the turnout was
Instead of paying the $5 minimum, people chipped in $20s and
$10s to the memorial fundraiser, which Villanueva’s family will probably use to
pay for her funeral in Mexico.
Friends, family, teachers and even complete strangers to
Villanueva showed up, bringing their kids, their spouses and friends of their
Though Tracyite John Torres never met Villanueva, he came
alone Saturday because he was impressed with the camaraderie he heard she
Ruben Medina brought seven people from his own family to the
charity breakfast for much the same reason.
“I’ve never met her,” he said. “But this is great. It’s a
good thing to support.”
Cooks and managers in the back showed up to work early
Saturday and the week before to volunteer their time to assemble the breakfast
“There’s really nothing we can do to fix this, to make it
better,” said restaurant manager Jose Reinoso, who raced back and forth between
kitchen and foyer to seat guests and serve food. “So this is the least we could
do — to help the family.”
Co-workers remember Villanueva as a “bright, bubbly girl,”
said one of her former co-workers Anthony Vides, 19.
“Honestly, when I’d come to work, seeing her made me want to
work harder and be happy,” he said. “She was one of the reasons I liked working
When he’d come in on his days off, Vides would give her
The last time he saw the young server was in the summer, before
the both of them quit to focus on school.
“I hadn’t seen her in a while, but when I heard what happened,
I knew I had to be here,” he said.
Villanueva’s medical instructor, Joannie Younger, drove to
the restaurant early Saturday morning to honor the memory of one of her “best
and brightest” students.
“I think this is amazing. It’s great that she’s getting this
support, that her family is,” she said, looking around at the turnout, which
included a group of Villanueva’s cousins.
“It’s kind of weird that she’s gone,” reflected Michelle
Orzal, a bartender. “She used to just stop in, even after she didn’t work here
anymore. Everyone liked her so much.”
Applebee’s held similar fundraisers in the past to raise
money for employees whose parents died on the same day.
“When something unexpected, something unfortunate happens,
what else can we do?” asked Reinoso. “We can just donate our time and show we
care in what ways we can.”
•We want to hear what you have to say. To reach Tracy Press
reporter Jennifer Wadsworth, call 830-4225 or e-mail email@example.com.