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Annie Ventullo remembers hearing from a school social worker one year, about a child in an abusive situation whose parents routinely threw away her toys at home.

“Could we get her some stuff she can play with while at school?” the social worker asked Ventullo, after hearing that she ran an annual fundraising effort for needy families.

The exchange is one example of the wide variety of people Ventullo and Velvet Lotus Tattoos aim to help each year with Tats for Tots. Kicking off today and continuing through Dec. 1, Tats for Tots helps “fill in the gaps” for families and children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to celebrate the holidays. To participate, you can sign up between noon and 6 p.m. today for a drawing to donate $50 and receive a tattoo from one of Velvet Lotus’s artists.

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Annie Ventullo has been raising money for needy families around the holidays for eight years.

You can also continue donating to the Velvet Lotus “Tats for Tots” fund through Dec. 1.

The event is even more important this year, when families are facing even greater needs because of the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic has also triggered concerns that people in vulnerable situations are even more isolated and may need even more help.

“To see these families I work with, especially caregivers who didn’t expect to be in the position of raising kids, to see them worrying … They’re thinking ‘We don’t even make things work normally. How are we going to make it through the holidays?’ ” Ventullo said.


She and Velvet Lotus owner Michelle Balhan are disappointed that this year’s COVID-trimmed Tats for Tots may not raise enough money as in years past. That means fewer families are likely to receive help. But the two were committed to ensuring this year’s event continued. Ventullo began the annual fundraising effort about eight years ago and then joined forces with Balhan to expand it in 2016.

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Michelle Balhan, center, joined Ventullo’s fundraising effort four years ago and converted it into Tats for Tots. She and the staff at Velvet Lotus Tattoo will receive sign-ups for a raffle today, and provide tattoos Friday, Nov. 13.

Ventullo connects with not only school social workers, but also government social workers, and other Johnson County contacts who are focused on helping needy families. Working together, their network helps provide gifts, food, or other forms of support to families who are in the throes of crisis, missed a deadline, got caught in bureaucracy, or are otherwise not receiving the help they need for their economic and family challenges.

In previous years, the event was a Halloween celebration. Donors would go to Velvet Lotus on the day of the event and receive a tattoo while donating. To be “COVID-responsible” this year, and to comply with Velvet Lotus’s strict COVID protocols of limiting the number of people in-store at once, this year’s event is spread out and more virtual.

You can enter today’s drawing for a tattoo until 6 p.m. by going to Velvet Lotus’s Facebook page. Tonight at 8 p.m., Velvet Lotus will hold a drawing for up to 13 people to receive tattoos Friday. To donate any amount, at any time, through Dec 1, go to Venmo at VelvetLotus_Tattoo, or PayPal at, and ENSURE your donation notes somewhere, “Tats for Tots.” With any other questions, contact Balhan at