To fully appreciate the outpouring of support for Northwest Pizza & Pasta Company owner Morgan George following a recent Facebook post in which he explained why he could no longer afford to offer outside seating, look beyond the GoFundMe page donations and scroll through the comments:
Zahara Solomon: “Thank you for all you have done for school kids! I hope we can return the favor .…”
The McLennan Family: “You are truly an asset to our community! I hope this shows how much we all love you!”
Christine Kuehu: “Thank YOU Morgan for always putting so much care into the children of our community (my boys love ya) and for always keeping the peace.”
Destiny Lynn: “The man who gives away thousands of dollars should not be worried about 1. We love you Morgan.”
Ashland rallied around one of its own last week, raising in a matter of days a little over $3,000 — enough money for George to re-open Northwest Pizza’s outdoor seating area next spring and make a few necessary repairs.
George’s need came to light not in a request but in a public notice of sorts when he shared in a Facebook post that he couldn’t afford a $1,000 city application fee necessary to obtain an outdoor seating permit because, he explained, he already had “several thousand dollars in walk-in and restaurant repairs” to worry about. George went on to explain that, since the outdoor space would not be re-opened, his patio furniture and planters were available to anybody willing to come pick them up.
That’s when Amber Ekwall sprang into action. Ekwall, whose son Gabe has played on several youth sports teams coached by George, saw his post and decided to do something about it. The thought that bargain hunters would soon hightail it to the popular hang-out spot to scoop up his furniture, taking advantage of a man known for contributing to local causes, just didn’t sit well.
George has earned a reputation as a strong supporter of local causes and athletics. The number of fundraisers he’s established or contributed to is too long to list in full, but recent examples include an Ashland Schools Foundation campaign for which, on the first Wednesday of every month, 10 percent of the day’s sales go to ASF; feeding local firefighters who were working overtime; and donating 10 percent of Sept. 19 sales to the Jackson County Council Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
“He’s done amazing things for the community,” Ekwall said. “Then when he put the post on, I just saw all these people latching on to wanting to get the free furniture. So he’s giving away this free furniture, and instead of somebody reaching out and saying 'what can we do to help you this time?' everyone’s like, ‘I want a bench.’
“I’m just like, 'how sad.'”
So Ekwall called George to tell him she wanted to organize a fundraiser, but he politely declined, and excused himself to get some rest — later that same day, he explained, he needed to make dozens of pizzas for a local elementary school.
“He said, ‘I can’t ask people for money and help, but thank you,’” Ekwall said, describing George’s response. “And I’m like, ‘I’m going to do this, you just be patient.’”
Patience, it turned out, wasn’t all that necessary.
Ekwall was done setting up the GoFundMe page a little after 8 a.m. Oct. 1. When she checked to see its progress six hours later it had already surpassed the $1,000 barrier and was fast-approaching the $2,000 goal.
That afternoon Ekwall learned that all of George’s benches had already been claimed, spoiling part of her plan — she was going to ask the Ashland High School woodshop class to refurbish the benches as a cost-savings measure. Now that there weren’t any benches to sand down, she realized, Morgan would need a little more help. She upped the fundraising goal to $3,000 and watched as the donations, and praise for Morgan, continued to pour in.
It reached the new goal within a couple days. As of 9 p.m. Saturday, the page had raised $3,265 from 80 donors in nine days.
After it became clear “Patio Fundraiser” would have no problem hitting its mark, George left a comment on the message board thanking the community for its support. It read: “Everyone, this is Morgan. I’m so overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support. Thank you everyone for simply being AMAZING! I will never be able to thank you enough for the support. With endless gratitude, Morgan George.”
“There was so much outpouring from the community,” Ekwall said, “and it’s a really good feeling that we all came together to help someone who’s been such a great, outstanding person.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.