Saratoga is known far and wide for its horses, for jazz, for its beautifully preserved downtown. Then there are all the cultural institutions, the Skidmore College campus, and a wide variety of well-kept parks and recreation facilities. All that is true. But at its core, Saratoga has a compassionate and generous heart.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, Mark Bertrand wanted to help. He sent an email to people in his circle, asking them to do two things: donate a gift or a gift card suitable for a child, and to pass on the email to their circle. That email went viral — the response came from all over the country — and Operation: A Cajun Christmas had gifts for 8,000 children.
That power of community inspired Bertrand to found The Giving Circle, a 100 percent volunteer, nonprofit organization, based here in Saratoga Springs. The organization has worked on many local projects, including rebuilding after flooding and partnering with Shelters of Saratoga’s Code Blue and the Franklin Street Food Pantry. It also works on many projects in Africa and supports a high school in Afghanistan.
After Harvey hit, with Irma threatening, The Giving Circle sent out a supply list and invited community members to drop off items at an Excelsior Avenue warehouse donated by Frank Parillo on Sept. 10 to 12. Patty Riggi, Ann Fantauzzi, Meg Kelly and Robin Dalton stood ready to receive the donations. Saratogians, knowing that joy is in the giving, gave generously. Staff at the Gideon Putnam Hotel donated linens and towels, and Bonacio Construction, Teakwood Builders, Roohan Realty, SGS Group, Century Linen and Uniform Healthcare Laundry also pitched in with donations. Many hands made light work as Bo Goliber, Tom Roohan, Chelsea Hoopes Silver, Sonny Bonacio, Cathy Duffy, Kelly Mommakoikai Bertrand and many others helped out.
Bertrand also lent a hand at the warehouse before returning to Houston to help in the rebuilding, with a big assist from SGS Transportation and volunteers Dennis and Judy Fillmore, Fred Garavelli, David Jones, John Trimmings and Thomas Siragusa. In seven days, Bertrand’s team had worked on five houses, three of which were brought down to studs and rebuilt. Sheetrock, hot water tanks, doors — everything had to be replaced, which the volunteers did.
Donations at the Saratoga warehouse location were stacked on pallets, donated by Stewart’s Shops, wrapped and loaded Sept. 22 onto two trucks, donated by the Hellwig family’s Trans Border Global Freight System. The truck to Houston left Monday, Sept. 25. The truck to Florida left for The Everglades, a poorer area of the state that is home to many farmers and migrants, several days later. Around 80 percent of homes in the region were destroyed.
It’s not too late to participate. Gift cards are given directly to families in need. You can donate $25 to $50 gift cards from Target, Home Depot and Walmart and mail them to The Giving Circle, PO Box 3162, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.
For more information on The Giving Circle, visit thegivingcircle.org