Since she was a young girl, Gloria Walker always wanted to visit the pyramids of Egypt.
She started her family young, and with her job as a hospital dietician and her aversion to flying….it just never happened.
Now 56, she still wants to go, though now, she wants to see them with all 14 members of her family.
And the time she has to fulfill that dream is fleeting….as last year she was diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer.
“If there’s one thing in the world you can do, what would it be, mom?’”
“She said, ‘I’d like to see the pyramids. Ever since she was a little girl, she’s wanted to see them.”
Oh, she’ll fly now….but the expense.
The family are just able to get their day-to-day needs met…..but that didn’t deter her youngest son, self-professed ‘Mama’s Boy’, 26 year-old Dustin Vitale, from finding a way.
Dustin teaches history at First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School in Philly’s Frankford section.
So it wouldn’t be on his salary.
He would make it happen with a family passion…..cheesesteaks.
He and his wife Hailey have been perfecting the Philly delicacy for years, huge monstrosities based on Gloria’s recipe.
Damn good cheesesteaks in a city known for damn good cheesesteaks.
They needed $10,000 just for the flight….then there’s the hotels, food and the rest.
He cooked them from his kitchen to friends and friends of friends.
He was cooking and selling a dozen a day at first.
And then strangers…faces he didn’t recognize….started double-parking in front of his door, to order two or three meals.
“We ended up doing 94 in one day and we were like just blown away.”
They would wake at 4am to bake their rolls fresh and shop at Aldi market for a hundred pounds of beef and chicken.
And that was quite a trick in their kitchen.
Dustin’s father, Dennis Vitale Jr., stepmother Lana Vitale, sister Jessica Holmes, brother Dennis Vitale III, and friends Nate and Evelyn DeStana also stepped up and helped.
Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov, who met the Vitales at K’Far, one of his restaurants, dropped by on March 6, bought a bunch, and posted his rave review on Instagram.
The post exploded with interest.
And that interest found and hit Mike Hauke right square in the center of his heart.
Mike owns the four Tony Boloney’s sandwich and pizza restaurants in New Jersey.
And he knew all too well Dustin’s situation.
16 years ago, his mother Patti also was diagnosed….and died….from cancer.
“All she wanted to do was go to Maine and see the fall foliage.
We never made it there. And I said, ‘You know what? Let me call him up and see what’s going on.’ “
After speaking with Dustin, they formulated a plan.
….he packed 500 pounds of rib-eye steak, 1,000 rolls, 200 pounds of cheese, many bags of onions, and 250 T-shirts into his Atlantic City-based food truck and rolled up to Vitale’s block in Northeast Philadelphia on Sunday.
Hauke and three workers flipped on the grill and turned out steak sandwiches and orders of fries for hundreds of friends and supporters who lined up along Loretto Avenue. Vitale worked the window, handing over food in takeout containers, with a big grin all afternoon. The sale, Vitale said later, reached its goal of $10,000.
Jesse Amoroso of Amoroso’s had given boxes of rolls to Vitale before Hauke also secured contributions from A. Rando Bakery in Atlantic City. Hauke’s supplier, U.S. Foods, kicked in the meat and onions, and Grande Cheese donated the cheese. A friend, Bryce Bundy, supplied the shirts, which had “Vitale’s Steaks’ printed on the front.
Hauke said he asked his employees to help, “and they jumped on it,” he said. “By the way, [they said] you don’t have to pay me.” He said he would pay them anyway.
Said Dustin, “So many people say, ‘Are you going to jump into this and open up a shop?’ And I could never. I love doing this on the side. My heart and passion is teaching and for the students.”
Said Mike, “I love my mom. He loves his mom. Obviously this is a big deal. He has a baby on the way. He’s a schoolteacher. That’s all they do…. give, give, give. This is the least we can do on a Sunday, coming out and having a good time.”
And do we have to imagine the blessing….the love…that Gloria feels now?
After raising over $18,000, the entire family indeed accompanied Gloria.
They visited the pyramids and the Sphinx, which was closed to the public, but after the Egyptian government found out about her story, they opened it just for them, and they issued her a key to the city of Sharm El Sheikh.
They were so honoured for her final wish to be visiting their country, they loaded her up with gifts and went all out to help make the family welcome.
Alas, the day after they returned from the trip that changed their lives, she was admitted to the hospital.
Three weeks later, Gloria died.
Surrounded by her family.
But what the Philadelphia community did to help facilitate this life- changing and life- enriching trip, Dustin will be forever so very grateful for the final bonding he had with his mom.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.