Purpose Farm and Animal Rescue of Baldwinsville, pairs youth ages 6 to 18 who have experienced neglect or abuse with animals who have come from similar backgrounds.
By Sarah Hall
Laura Serway and Cindy Seymour like to think small.
The owners of Laci’s Tapas Bar in Syracuse’s historic Hawley-Green neighborhood populate their menu with small plates (tapas). They, like other non-chain restaurants and locally owned establishments in Central New York, regularly celebrate small businesses. And each year, Laci’s recognizes a small nonprofit organization with a big party.
“We have a lot of large nonprofits in the city and the county that have a lot of recognition. The small ones do not,” Seymour said. “There are so many small entities that have budgets of less than $1 million that don’t even know how to write a press release. We wanted there to be more of a focus on the small nonprofits, because they get so little recognition.”
Serway and Seymour started Laci’s Giveback, which is now in its sixth year, shortly after they opened the restaurant.
“We knew that we wanted to put together a way to celebrate our success, first for our grand opening and then our success year after year, and we were talking about a way to pull that together and still give back,” Serway said.
The two came up with the idea for the giveback, which involved inviting the community to the restaurant for a tasting of its wares while honoring a local nonprofit. The first year, Laci’s picked the charity — the Northeast Hawley Development Association (NEHDA), which promotes the revitalization of the Hawley-Green neighborhood and surrounding area.
In subsequent years, Laci’s turned to social media for the nonprofit of choice, asking Facebook fans to nominate deserving charities and vote for their choice. The charity with the most “likes” is honored at the giveback party and earns all the proceeds from ticket and vendor booth sales.
This year’s winner is Purpose Farm and Animal Rescue of Baldwinsville, which pairs youth ages 6 to 18 who have experienced neglect or abuse with animals who have come from similar backgrounds. Owner Sandra Seabrook said she was surprised to learn the farm had won.
“We did not really think we could win it, as we were going up against some big nonprofits that were well-established in the community,” she said. “So when we won, it was very humbling and uplifting to know that so many supported us to win.”
Seabrook said she and her family went on a social media frenzy to get support for the farm.
“We tagged everyone we could in FB posts and shared it on every page we could think of that was animal- and youth-related,” she said. “Our friends and families also stayed up with us countless hours to get us likes.”
The effort paid off.Purpose Farm netted more than 4,000 likes out of 14,530 in the contest to take first place out of a total of 96 nonprofits. According to Serway, a total of 258,000 people voted, and the contest was shared 555 times.
That community spirit is why Seymour and Serway chose to turn the choice of the nonprofit over to Laci’s fans instead of picking the winner themselves.
“The first year, we didn’t know better,” Seymour said. “We just wanted to help our neighborhood.”
But letting Laci’s patrons pick gives them ownership over the event.
“Letting people vote gets everybody involved,” Seymour said. “They feel invested in it.”
It also takes the weight off the owners’ shoulders.
“We’ve had people come to us in years past and ask, ‘Can you help us make this charity win?’ And we say no. It’s totally outside of our control. We didn’t want that on us,” Seymour said. “We don’t want to pick and choose. How do you pick? How do you think any one of those is better or more deserving than the others?”
Not that any of the winners can be judged anything but deserving. In addition to Purpose Farm and NEHDA, past winners have included the Q Center, Cuse Pit Crew, Helping Hounds and David’s Refuge. Overall, the giveback has helped small nonprofits make some $70,000 over the last five years.
This year’s winner, Seymour said, is practically an ideal candidate.
“It’s a husband-and-wife team… and they work full-time while working the farm,” she said. “They wanted to do it, so they just did it. But they don’t know how to write grants. They’re so busy they don’t have time to learn how to do anything else. They’re almost like the perfect [winner].”
Seabrook said she hoped the giveback event would help put Purpose Farm on the map.
“For the farm and our family, we think this is really our one big break that is going to help us succeed and move forward with all aspects of our mission,” she said.
That’s the ultimate goal of the giveback — to help small nonprofits grow.
“These organizations, even all of the larger ones, started out with a passion and with an idea and with a desire to change and to help. They were fortunate enough to skyrocket,” Seymour said. “For the smaller ones, they just need a chance. That’s what Howard Seabrook said to us — ‘I think this is our beginning.’”
Laci’s Tapas Bar 2016 Giveback Celebration takes place from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18, at the restaurant, 304 Hawley Ave., Syracuse. Presale tickets are available for $30; tickets can also be purchased at the door for $40. A ticket buys you five samples each of tapas and drinks. The event also features vendors set up in the Hawley-Green area, as well as live music, raffles and more. All proceeds benefit Purpose Farm.
If you can’t attend but you’d still like to help Purpose Farm, visit purposefarm.org or Facebook.com/PurposeFarm.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.