People of the Year 2013: Project Pay it Forward

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Project Pay it Forward helps one local business at a time by determining what it needs — be it a fundraiser or just someone to help put up sheetrock in a gutted space — and then organizing volunteers to help do the work, or host an event to raise money. The hope, Kupferman said, is that once a business is restored, it, too, will “pay it forward” and help the group with the next project.

To date, the organization has helped some 20 businesses and organizations across the barrier island, ranging from surf shops to the Knights of Columbus — which is working to rebuild its headquarters, which was destroyed in a fire shortly after Sandy.

“We were really appreciative of that,” said Knights of Columbus Grand Knight Ron Browne. “It felt really good to see that people really wanted us back, and were pushing to get us back. Every little bit helps.”

Though Pay it Forward has raised more than $75,000 — in addition to other efforts such as helping with construction — many agree that the group’s mission has gone beyond raising money. Along with other groups formed after the storm, including Project 11561, Pay it Forward has created a desperately needed sense of optimism after Sandy.

“It’s not just about getting people back on their feet anymore,” McNally said. “A lot of what this group and these individuals have inspired is about a larger picture of how our city can come back even better. In many respects, they’ve embodied and inspired a renewed movement toward community involvement in Long Beach.”

Pay it Forward came together when its founders collaborated on a project during the holidays last year that involved buying gift cards from local businesses and donating them to families in need. Afterward, group members, including Earth Arts owner Michelle Kelly and her husband, Tim — all of whom were dealing with damage to their own homes and businesses — became friends, and discussed ways in which they could continue to help.

“When that ended, nobody knew what would be next, but that was an eye-opener as to how much help businesses still needed,” Kupferman said. “We all talked to each other and said we should keep going and do something more, and from that came the idea of Pay it Forward.”

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