People of the Year 2013: Project Pay it Forward

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With many businesses waiting for government aid or insurance money, Kupferman said, the group wanted to find a way to get them what they needed to get back on their feet, albeit in a way that set realistic goals.

“Dealing with insurance — I was very powerless with my own house, and it was nice to do something positive, and it gave me that feeling of being productive,” said Kupferman — who also helps organize a local Mustaches for Kids fundraiser every year for Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Pediatric Cancer Care. “[Project Pay it Forward] was smooth because we set it up to be smooth — we set it up where we didn’t need the city’s permission to do things or a big benefactor or a permit. We just needed people to show up and help. Long Beach is a town where people want to do good, but sometimes you have to give them an avenue to do that, and Pay it Forward did that.”

Some businesses, like Seaside Celebrations, needed help with something as simple as painting. Others needed financial assistance. Some businesses, however, were reluctant at first.

“Everyone felt the same way — they felt uncomfortable taking charity,” said Sean Sullivan’s wife, Kelly, a co-founder. “But by getting back open, they could help others, and that was the real drive behind it: We all have to help each other. We felt a lot more comfortable doing stuff for other people before ourselves. And none of us would be open right now if we had to depend on insurance.”

As Project Pay it Forward’s mission has become less urgent, group members have branched out into efforts of their own, but they continue to support one another.

Michelle and Tim Kelly are trying to rebuild their home in the Canals but are still displaced. Still, Michelle teamed up with Kelly Sullivan and the Blue Bungalow’s Patricia Daly to launch the Shop Local, Shop Long Beach initiative this holiday season, with money that was donated to Project Pay it Forward.

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