Having a night out for New Orleans

Businesses in Annapolis to sponsor all-night fundraiser for hurricane relief

September 11, 2005|By Chris Yakaitis | Chris Yakaitis,SUN STAFF

Every night in New Orleans - before Hurricane Katrina - thousands of visitors were the beneficiaries of the city's famous hospitality. On Tuesday, the Annapolis business community is sponsoring a night that it hopes will benefit the Big Easy.

And just like New Orleans before the storm, the event should provide an evening of excitement with no closing time.

"It's an all-night thing," said Lucy Curtis, co-chairwoman of "A Night Out for New Orleans'" planning committee. "As long as the shops and especially the restaurants and the bars stay open."

Community groups have come out in force to collect and provide funds and food, clothing and other necessary items for those displaced by the hurricane and resultant flooding. Anne Arundel County public schools, the Annapolis Police Department, the Salvation Army, the Heritage Baptist Church, the Panthers Athletic Club and the Stanton Community Center on West Street in Annapolis have all contributed to the effort.

At least 20 emergency response and communications personnel from the county have been in the Gulf Coast area since last week, helping with the relief effort.

Tuesday's planned event is the first to rope together multiple businesses in the hope of generating even more aid.

About 50 area businesses are expected to donate at least 50 percent of their profits for the event, all of which will be sent in a bulk contribution to the American Red Cross. Planners said they have no idea how much they'll raise Tuesday.

"I think that since we have about 50 businesses participating, that we could raise maybe $20,000, $25,000? That would be $500 from each business, and I know that for a lot of them it will be a lot more," Curtis said. "I'm not a professional fundraiser in any form or fashion. But I'm going to take a stab at it." The event was conceived to center on Annapolis' powerful hospitality industry. But when word got out, things quickly evolved to include big chain restaurants as well as mom-and-pop retailers and even a free concert at the City Dock, featuring local band Evolve.

"Jewelers, florists, order repairs, sunglasses. ... All kinds of things," Curtis said. "There's like a video rental and coffee store that's doing it, and two Wendy's fast-foods in Annapolis here as well. [They're] calling it `Take Out to Help Out,' because the real slogan is `Go Out to Help Out.'"

The event's name and slogan have been such a hit that other Washington-area suburbs have asked if they can use them to promote similar organized efforts, she said.

The concept for an organized, citywide fundraising effort stemmed from a conversation between Curtis and Larry Beiderman, executives at the Loews Annapolis Hotel, on the morning of Aug. 31, when the scope of the disaster was emerging.

"It was [that] Wednesday morning that we talked about it, and by Wednesday afternoon we had our first committee meeting," Curtis said.

The event's organizers said they knew that local businesses have traditionally raised money in response to disasters such as the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But this time, they thought of bringing it all together.

"The only difference in this case is the realization that if we put it all under one umbrella, we could create an energy and a citywide effort which would in and of itself draw in more people," said Curtis, director of catering and conference management at the hotel. "It would create a buzz, and that would bring more people out to eat and spend their money, and that would get more money raised."

Bill and Maria Buszinski and their Sputnik Cafe co-owner David Brown donated 50 percent of their restaurant's revenue for Sept. 4 - $1,843 - to the American Red Cross.

The owners of the small Crownsville-based restaurant kicked in an additional contribution to bring the total to $2,000, Maria Buszinski said.

But they're not stopping there.

In the next week, the Sputnik Cafe will raffle off a leather masquerade-style mask hand-made by two artists who live in an apartment above the restaurant.

"We're still thinking about that and thinking of different ways to contribute," Maria Buszinski said.

Another local restaurant has used its tables to get the word out and the money in. On Wednesday, the family-owned Rocky Run Tap & Grill sponsored a similar 50-percent- of-revenue donation at its locations in Marley Station Mall, Columbia and Charles Village in Baltimore.

"It looks like we're going to be able to donate about $12,000," said Mike Donnelly, who co-owns the chain with his wife, Lisa, and parents, Bert and Fran. "We had a lot of good response from the community."

And the spirit spread to the employees, Donnelly said.

"There were a lot of them that donated their tips for the day. That'll be on top of the $12,000," he said.

Donnelly said he hasn't decided whether the chain will sponsor another fund drive, but would be watching the situation and might repeat the event if more help is needed.

"It's so unbelievable," he said. "Sometimes you take for granted how good things are. You see something like that and you just want to figure out a way to help."

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