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Son’s need sparks charity

In his first days of life, Cullen Peterson struggled to eat. His cleft palate made it hard to get food into his mouth.

As an infant, Cullen had surgery to repair his palate at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. He just celebrated his sixth birthday, and is doing well.

But his mom, Myandi, worries about children with similar conditions who are born into families who can’t afford treatment. So she launched an effort to raise money for Smile Train, an international charity that raises money for cleft palate surgeries and treatments.

She created Fredericksburg Dining For Smiles.

“I wanted to raise money, and restaurants were a good fit,” Peterson said, “People go out to eat, to dine, to laugh, to smile. These are all things you do with your face. And these are things that these kids can’t do.”

Fredericksburg-area restaurants have been coming on board to help children receive treatment for cleft palates.

Fredericksburg Dining For Smiles started Aug. 2 with a party at the Tavern at Lee’s Hill. That event raised $1,200, which could cover the costs of five surgeries, Peterson said.

Local restaurants join the effort and pay a $50 monthly fee, Peterson said. About 25 percent of that fee goes to Smile Train, an international charity that raises money for cleft palate surgeries and treatment. The rest of the money goes toward public relations campaigns for the effort.

Peterson hopes to get 20 restaurants signed up—that would raise enough money to cover 12 surgeries annually.

So far, six local businesses have signed up: Five restaurants and the Olde Towne Butcher.

Each participating business offers a coupon, which patrons can get on the Fredericksburg Dining For Smiles Facebook page. People can save the coupon on their mobile phones and present it at the restaurant, Peterson said.

For details, visit

Amy Umble: 540/735-1973