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McGraw restaurant creates safe space

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Edward Vasquez, left, owner of Eddie’s Restaurant, in McGraw, and his daughter Casiana Vasquez, 8, decorate Friday for the upcoming community yard sale in the village. Edward Vasquez said he is trying to make his restaurant a gathering place for local youths.

When Edward Vasquez heard his 14-year-old daughter was being bullied by an older girl, he called the sheriff. He was told that because there are no laws against bullying, there was nothing that they could do.

Vasquez is using his restaurant to take action.

Eddie’s Restaurant is at 34 E. Main St. in McGraw. The restaurant has been open for about three months, and sells American, Spanish and Italian food. For Vasquez, Eddie’s Restaurant is more than just a business.

“I want this to be a place where kids can talk and get help,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez plans to a have programs for children in his restaurant about bullying, drugs and sexual abuse. He wants to have a place where children talk about their issues, feel safe and stay off the streets.

He is working with the McGraw United Methodist Church to come up with ways to help children, and met Wednesday with its pastor, the Rev. Cathy Lee.

“We were talking about how we can help our kids,” he said. “That’s what we’re aiming at.”

Vasquez’s determination to help children came from his childhood. Vasquez grew up in a rough neighborhood in New York City around people struggling with alcohol, abuse, depression and drugs. A few years after leaving New York following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, he moved to McGraw and has been living there nine years.

Vasquez’s passion also comes from his eight daughters and one son, ranging in age from 8 to 26, who have played a significant role in helping him identify the problems McGraw kids face.

“They know what’s going on in the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s really rough for these kids today.”

Vasquez wants his restaurant to be a place where kids can learn and find work. He has a degree in marketing and is willing to teach kids about business and working in a restaurant.

“Kids with working papers, they can come here and we will teach you what you need to know,” he said.

Vasquez also wants to use his restaurant to combat child hunger. He makes to-go plates for kids. He also sends “kids eat free” coupons out in the mail. He is working with the schools so that in the winter, children can come to his restaurant, have some hot chocolate, eat breakfast, and be able to go to school able to focus on their work. He is willing to give food to kids that come to his restaurant and can’t afford it.

“I don’t think a child should starve,” he said. “If your kids are starving, we can fix it.”

Vasquez is concerned about the summer, because he worries that children won’t have a place to go. The McGraw Recreational Department has summer programs for children, but village Treasurer Lori Aiken and Clerk Joan Coombs mentioned that although the trips are popular, they don’t see as many children attending the events as they did in the past.

“There’s enough for kids to do — it’s a matter of getting kids interested,” Aiken said. “I’d like to see more kids.”

Cory Smith, the youth director for McGraw, said he wasn’t aware of the issues Vasquez raised, like hunger and drugs.

“I don’t get out there to really let you know,” he said. “I’m not really around to see everything that goes on.”

“McGraw is a good community, we do stick together as one,” Vasquez said. “If we could get together against the drug, helping them from hunger, and out of the streets, we can do this.”

Vasquez plans a car wash this summer, and a bake sale to raise money for Christmas at McGraw, a way to give gifts to kids that can’t afford Christmas.

“I’m here to help,” Vasquez said. “If they need a place to go, this is their place.”