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Old Lyme - A longtime fundraising tradition in the marine industry turned into an initiative this year that raised $50,000 in recovery aid for the victims of Superstorm Sandy.
Nine years ago, after reading in the newspaper that the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center in New London needed turkeys for the holidays, Kellogg Marine executive Robert Staehle began asking manufacturers and dealers for a $1 entrance fee to the annual Kellogg Marine Dealer Trade Show at Foxwoods.
Staehle, the vice president of new business development for Brunswick Parts & Accessories, Kellogg Marine/Land 'N' Sea and Diversified Marine, called the initiative "Bob's Turkey Fund." Each year, Kellogg Marine Inc. has matched the funds. Traditionally, the effort would raise between $4,000 and $6,000 each year for the food bank and the Care & Share of East Lyme, he said.
Superstorm Sandy struck three weeks before this year's show, wiping out marinas, boatyards and equipment belonging to many of the company's customers, so Staehle decided to use the entrance fee and matching gifts to raise funds for storm relief.
Kellogg, Brunswick Corp. and Brunswick Boat Group, and Mercury Marine sent aid to two trade associations in New York and New Jersey. The company gave $25,000 to the recovery fund set up by the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey and $25,000 to the Hudson Valley Marine Trades Association. It also donated $2,500 to the local Care & Share.
The Recovery & Relief Fund of the New Jersey association will benefit both people and marine companies, according to the association's press release.
"In the days following the storm, we quickly realized that there was a need to establish a new charitable organization to provide a means for funds to be distributed directly to aid recreational marine businesses," Melissa Danko, executive director of MTA/NJ, said in a statement.
"It is our hope that this new fund will provide the many individuals and organizations that have contacted us offering their assistance with an opportunity to support their fellow marine businesses."
Gabe Capobianchi, president of the Hudson Valley association, which has about 25 members, said the donation will help restore some of the businesses' infrastructure, from docks to computers. Kellogg will present the check to the association at a ceremony next month.
"The generosity is just overwhelming," he said.
Staehle, who said he has continued to receive donations since an article about the effort appeared in a trade magazine, visited New Jersey last month. There, he met two marine dealers who cried as they said how grateful they were that someone was concerned about them and their future. He said it was heartwarming to see how thankful the recipients were.
"It makes the whole company feel good when we do something like this," Staehle said.