SARANAC LAKE - Instead of raising money to buy food for Hurricane Sandy's victims, local business people are selling food to send money.
Restaurants around the region are contributing proceeds from certain days to the cause, but it's not just that. In Saranac Lake, before the "dining for disaster relief" got going, an ad-hoc local coalition had already collected close to $11,000 in direct monetary donations by midday Friday and hoped to hit $15,000.
Plus, with the help of a local clothing store and its supplier, the group is donating 200 winter coats to help people who've lost homes and belongings keep warm as winter moves in.
Bear Essentials owner Greg Moore, left, and Jacob Stanbro of Nonna Fina show off one of 200 coats they got from the Stormtech company, at a massively reduced price, to give to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
Jacob Stanbro is a young restaurateur who runs Nonna Fina in Saranac Lake and is helping lead the charge in this village to help Sandy's victims. His original plan was to collect $5,000 in donations, buy food with it and send the food downstate in a Rice Furniture truck, but now that's changed. Stanbro said Friday the New York City group that would have distributed the food, NY Cares, has become so overwhelmed it can't take any more; it hasn't even answered its phones this week.
Lynn Gilbert, a former Saranac Laker who is the executive director of the American Red Cross' North Country Chapter, convinced him to send money instead.
"Who are we to say what they need?" Stanbro told the Enterprise Friday. "They're telling us what they need."
"Monetary donations are easier to transport without the logistical difficulties," Gilbert told the Enterprise Friday, "and that way we are able to focus the needs specific to the people of the area."
Sometimes after a disaster, Gilbert said, people with the best intentions donate large quantities of solid goods that create a "distribution nightmare" for people on the ground in the disaster area. Therefore, she said, it's good that the Saranac Lake group switched to money and that, with the coats, they're working on their own to find a direct taker that knows how to distribute them right away.
The 200 coats come from Stormtech, of Vancouver, Canada, via Greg Moore, who sells the company's products at his Bear Essentials clothing store. The double-layer coats normally retail for $180, but Stormtech agreed to provide them for roughly a tenth of that price to the Saranac Lake group to send them to Sandy victims. Moore said the company rep who deals with him went further, having the company eat the $1,600 express-shipping cost. He got yelled at for that but thought it was worth it, he told Moore.
Stanbro says the goal is to raise $15,000 in his hometown alone. The Saranac Lake Rotary Foundation is serving as trust for the money.
On Election Day, local business people set up a table in front of Rice Furniture, next-door to the polling site in the Harrietstown Town Hall; the bills that stuffed the container added up to $3,280, Stanbro said.
Meanwhile, with Stanbro pounding the pavement, Saranac Lake businesses gave an additional $5,200.
Plus, on Friday, Nonna Fina gave 100 percent of its proceeds to the effort.
"That's so incredibly generous, and they're great to work with, too," Gilbert said.
On Friday the Red Cross announced a similar effort, called "Supper on Sandy: Dining For Disaster Relief." On Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m., 10 restaurants will donate a percentage of all receipts generated to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. They include three in Lake Placid - Alegria Garden Cafe, Hunan Oshaka and the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery - and two in Tupper Lake - Little Italy and the White Birch Cafe, plus four in Plattsburgh and one in Malone. The restaurants will also sell raffle tickets to support the cause.
Gilbert said Saranac Lake restaurants were intentionally not included because people there are already doing so much and the Red Cross didn't want to "over-tap" them.
"The North Country Chapter is extremely grateful for the generosity of the Saranac Lake restaurants and businesses that are doing this," she said. "It's an amazing, amazing outpouring of generosity.
"I'm proud to be a native of Saranac Lake."