Chili's cancels autism fundraiser after complaints - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

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Chili's cancels autism fundraiser after complaints

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A popular chain restaurant canceled an autism benefit after it said customers complained about the event.

A mother from Bristol, however, said Chili's ruined her autistic son's birthday celebration.

Tammy Bongiovanni said she had a celebration with 20 loved ones planned for her son Noah, who turns 20. Now, she was left scrambling.

"It's upsetting. On his b-day we planned a special event and it's not going to happen," she said.

Bongiovanni said in addition to her son's birthday, she was headed to Chili's to support the restaurant's "Give Back Event." Ten percent of customers' checks were supposed to benefit the National Autism Association. April is Autism Awareness Month.

"But then we got an email last night, quarter of 10, rescinding the offer," she said.

The message read "while we're committed to autism families, based on feedback from guests, we're canceling the event."

Bongiovanni said she called the restaurant's Bristol location its corporate number. She said both gave her vague responses.

"They're not getting good feedback," she said. "National association of autism debate on whether or not immunizations contribute to autism. And my response was this money's going to research and awareness. Let the researchers debate that. It has nothing to do with the people going there tonight."

According to its website, the NAA believes vaccinations can trigger or exacerbate autism in some, if not many children.

Chili's said, "the intent of this fundraiser was not to express a view on the medical or scientific positions related to autism, but rather to support the families affected by autism."

"This was supposed to bring awareness to the whole month of April," Bongiovanni said. "It's Autism Awareness Month and shouldn't be a contributing factor."

"This was such a good public relations move for Chili's and now it's negative," said Debbie Landrum, Noah Bongiovanni's aunt.

Tammy Bongiovanni said her new plans would likely include another restaurant or pizza at home.

"It's tough because (Noah) gets anxious," she said. "But we were willing to do this because it would help other kids like Noah."

Bongiovanni said she believed vaccinating her son likely contributed to his autism. However, she said views like that had nothing to do with bringing awareness to the condition.

"They are taking a stand by canceling it," she said. "Debate has nothing to do with research and awareness.

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