Local businesses support earthquake victims

By Stephanie Saviola

In this tumultuous economy, small businesses and restaurants are often hit the hardest. But in the wake of the disaster in Haiti, local business owners are pulling together to help victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

On Jan. 26, the South Loop’s Tapas Valencia plans to donate 100 percent of its lunch, dinner and bar sales to the American Red Cross.

“Any huge catastrophe that has happened, we have recognized and helped out any way we can,” said Ruthanne Balgro, events coordinator for Tapas Valencia.

This past Tuesday, Jan. 19, the owner of Valencia held a similar event at his Naperville restaurant, Meson Sabika, and raised more than $20,000 to donate to the Red Cross.

In the past, the restaurant has held events and donated funds for the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and 2005 Hurricane Katrina victims.

“We are very excited and very hopeful,” Balgro said. “We have only been open in the city for a year now, and we are not that integrated in the community yet, but we have already been getting reservations [for the 26th].”

Mia Francesca, 3311 N. Clark St., and 18 other Francesca restaurant locations plan to hold a “Dine for Haiti” event Jan. 25 and will donate 100 percent of their dining profits from lunch and dinner to the Red Cross. Francesca has promised to pledge a minimum of $10,000.

According to the Haitian Civil Defense Department on Jan. 20, the current death toll was 75,000. An additional 250,000 people are injured and over a million are homeless. The Haitian government is expecting the death toll to increase to 200,000 over the next few weeks. The most needed supplies are tents, water, food, medical supplies and workers.

Heartland Alliance, a locally based and nationally recognized nonprofit organization, has partnered with Chicago volunteers and local restaurants to put together a weeklong event called “ChiHelpsHaiti.”

Kathryn Zimmer, National Parent Teacher Association Marketing Communications manager from Chicago, created the idea. Zimmer said she decided to use the social networking site Twitter to help her spread the word about her idea.

“At 5 a.m., I started direct messaging contacts and within nine hours, we had our event in the works,” Zimmer said, who is taking time off from her job to volunteer.

More than a dozen Chicago restaurants such as The Bristol and SushiSamba Rio joined the benefit and gave customers the opportunity to add $1 to their check to contribute to Heartland Alliance for Haiti victims.

“We’ve had an excellent response and a lot of restaurants have decided to match contributions,” said Zimmer. “Twitter was the best platform to rally in restaurants and spread the word out to people.”

A Chicago Heartland Alliance team currently plans to visit Haiti to help with emergency relief and get on-the-ground assessments to help determine specific needs of victims.

Zimmer said she hopes to extend the restaurant event because of the great response from not only restaurants, but also patrons who want to contribute.

Chicago-based handbag designer Cinnamon Cooper said she plans to donate $20 from every purse sale. Cooper said she will match all donations for a total of $40 per handbag to contribute to CARE.org for Haiti relief fund.

“I’ve done fundraising for CARE in the past. I started my business so I could sell bags with a portion of the proceeds going to an organization I would specifically design for,” said Cooper, who resides in West Rogers Park and does all of her business online at her Web site Poise.cc.

All of Cooper’s purses are handmade with sweat-shop free and fair trade fabric and hardware.

“When I heard about the earthquake in Haiti, I went to CARE’s Web site and found out that they had 150 people there before the earthquake and they were sending more people after, so I knew I wanted to help them,” Cooper said.

Cooper will continue donating through the end of February.