23 Aug 2014
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Project Pay It Forward Helps Sandy-Battered Businesses

Long Beach volunteers help local establishments get back on their feet.

Project Pay It Forward Helps Sandy-Battered Businesses
Less than a year after they relocated to a vacant storefront at 949 W. Beech St., the owners of Seaside Celebrations are again reconstructing, this time after Hurricane Sandy battered their children’s entertainment center. Now, on the eve of reopening, they are particularly appreciative of the people who helped rebuild their business that otherwise would have been lost.

“If it wasn’t for the landlord fixing it out of his own pocket and the community that donated everything from toys, to furniture, to time, to painting, to their words of advice and encouragement, we would not be able to reopen,” said Kristina O’Neill, who co-owns Seaside Celebrations with Debbie Mantia.  

Among those that helped them recover is Project Pay It Forward (PPIF), a collaboration of Long Beach Surfers Association, Earth Arts, Swingbelly’s and local lawyer Janet Slavin, who volunteer to help storm-damaged businesses expedite their rebuilding. The past two weekends, PPIF volunteers were at the center painting and rebuilding benches and storage space with lumber and cabinets donated by Centre Millwork, a local lumberyard.

LBSA President Billy Kupferman spearheads Project Pay It Forward. He explained that volunteers work to restored one business at a time, after which they try to recruit each owner to assist them with future restoration efforts. O’Neill and Mantia, for example, have agreed to babysit the children of parents who attend PPIF’s second fundraiser at Minnesota’s, a West End restaurant-bar, Friday evening.  

“If everybody gets together and does a little work at a store, that may get that business up and running in a day instead of a matter of three weeks, which makes a tremendous amount of difference to a business owner who’s just looking to start to get some income again,” Kupferman said.

Toward this mission, PPIF held their inaugural fundraiser last month at the Saloon, another West End restaurant-bar, where some 200 supporters turned out. West End Chiropractic was the first business to benefit from the project. Swingbelly’s provided food and drink for the event, just as the barbeque restaurant will do at the fundraiser on Feb. 8. The fundraisers serve multi-purposes, in that they also financially assist the host establishment and Swingbelly’s, whose owners, Sean and Kelly Sullivan, still work to restore their West End restaurant.

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PPIF originated after Kupferman and Slavin had talked and found that they shared an idea to form an alliance to assist businesses struggling to rebuild after the storm, said Slavin.

“I think what’s unique about the founders of this group so far is that we all offer unique services,” she said.

Slavin cited her ability to provide legal assistance for business owners with issues related to landlords and insurance companies, and some surfers who can offer their carpentry and painting expertise.

Originally, Kupferman had learned that West End Chiropractic had suffered after the storm from mold and a leaky roof that needed to be replaced, and owner Jeff Stanger had troubles with his contractor. Word got out about the project, and soon after residents started to approach PPIF with suggestions about other businesses that could use their help.

O’Neill said that Michelle Kelly of Earth Arts, who recruits for PPIF, approached her about rebuilding her business. Seaside Celebrations used to babysit Kelly’s children, and she told O’Neill that many parents wanted to see the center return.

“Many people helped us to get our store open again,” said Kelly, who owns her arts and crafts store on West Park Avenue with her husband, Tim. “It’s the least we can do to help other businesses in Long Beach.”

PPIF is open to suggestions from the community about businesses that may need post-Sandy assistance, Kupferman said. He’s compiled a list of such businesses, none of the owners of which came approached him. He noted that typically they are initially resistant when the organization offers them assistance through a recommendation.

Where is Project Pay It Forward headed and for how long? And does Kupferman anticipate that demand may outdo supply of volunteers and resources? He said he’s concerned that PPIF may receive too many recommendations, but for that reason the project focuses on restoring one business at a time. He vowed, though, that the project would continue so long as there are businesses that need to recover.  

“It allows us to assess what we’re capable of in that time period,” he said. “It can be as big is it can be but we can’t do more than what we’re able to do. I never want us to bite off more than we can chew.”  


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