People of the Year 2013: Project Pay it Forward

Helping one business at a time after Hurricane Sandy


"In the days after the storm, there was a mentality of helping one another — it was such a mess, but there was also such a feeling of community. You really felt like you were literally helping someone, and that struck a chord with me,” said Billy Kupferman, a co-founder of Project Pay it Forward, a group of residents and business owners who have been helping local businesses and organizations get back on their feet in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

In the weeks after the storm, with a majority of Long Beach residents still displaced, Swingbellys, the popular West End barbecue joint, along with Skudin Surf, Surf for All, Kupferman and the Long Beach Surfer’s Association teamed up to serve more than 200 turkey dinners at the Ice Arena on Thanksgiving. Before the storm, Kupferman had barely known Swingbellys’ owner, Sean Sullivan, whose own business was destroyed by the storm. But the two quickly became close friends after that Thanksgiving event, and were committed to continue giving back to the community.

“That was definitely what brought everybody together,” Kupferman said.

The Surfer’s Association, along with Earth Arts, Swingbellys and the Janet Slavin law firm, launched Project Pay it Forward in January, a collaborative effort aimed at getting storm-ravaged businesses in the city rebuilt and off the ground.

While the list of groups and individuals who have helped the community since the storm is virtually endless, Project Pay it Forward is the Herald’s choice for 2013 People of the Year. It has left an indelible mark, mainly by igniting a grass-roots movement to help a city that was reeling after Sandy.

“Certainly, I’ve seen them help spark a level of community engagement and activism the likes of which I’ve not seen over my nearly 15 years here,” said Michigan Street resident John McNally, a co-chair of the state’s local Community Reconstruction Program and associate director of the Energeia Partnership at Molloy College. “These are all people who were impacted as much as those they’re helping. The amount they’re all doing for our community while simultaneously also trying to get back in their own homes — and get their businesses back on their feet — is truly remarkable.”

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