‘All this money will just be given away next year’

‘All this money will just be given away next year’

By Colleen Jurkiewicz  Special to the News Graphic

CEDARBURG — Throughout the year, Mel’s Charities works to support the community in Ozaukee County. Through events like Mel’s Pig Roast, the nonprofit raises thousands of dollars that will be used for grants, scholarships and other means of community support – more than $850,000, in fact, has been given back to the community since the organization’s founding almost 20 years ago.

But this Christmas, the community seems to have decided to share the love and give a little back to Mel’s. In a flurry of coincidental donations from longtime supporters – both anonymous and identified – combined with the recently completed “Match for Mel’s” $10,000 matching fundraising initiative, the nonprofit is going to wake up to $50,000 under its Christmas tree this year.

“This will just mean another great year of helping out Ozaukee County and its citizens,” said Mel’s founder, Tom Stanton.

“Our big thing is that if we can just impact one person’s life a day, it’s a great day for us. All this money will just be given away next year,” Stanton said.

It all started with a chance encounter that Stanton had about a month ago at a local dog park with a couple (who have requested anonymity) that are longtime, low-profile supporters of Mel’s – so low-profile, in fact, that Stanton didn’t even recognize them until they introduced themselves. He had simply known them through the increasingly generous donations they continued to make throughout the years.

The threesome chatted about dogs for a while and parted ways. The next day, Stanton received a phone call from the husband. “He said, ‘I want to figure out a way to give you $10,000 this year – you got till midnight, Dec. 15, and whatever new money you guys bring in, we’ll match up to $10,000,’” said Stanton. “We had never had anything like this happen to us.”

The next morning, another longtime supporter asked to meet with Stanton for coffee – he was in need of cheering up. Before the pair parted, to thank him for the pick-meup, the supporter sat down and wrote out a check for $2,000. Later that day, yet another friend got wind of the grant, and volunteered the remaining $8,000.

However, the original donor of the matching grant agreed to go ahead and announce the campaign to the public as previously planned. After the “Match for Mel’s” was announced in mid-November, the public donations began to pour in.

“The first day, we sent out an email and put it on social media. Within, I am not kidding you, five minutes – bing, bing, bing, all of a sudden we’re getting hits on our account, people donating with their credit card. Ten dollars, $25, $500, $1,000. The first week we brought in close to $6,000,” said Stanton.

On Thanksgiving, Stanton sent flowers to the widow of Al Duhr, who had been a friend of Mel’s Charities for many years. Duhr passed away suddenly in May of this year. Throughout his long association with the charity, he had always declined recognition for his support, financial or otherwise.

“He didn’t want anything,” said Stanton. “That’s what we loved about Al – he served others before himself and without any fanfare.”

At his memorial early in the year, in lieu of flowers, donations to Mel’s were requested. Thousands of dollars from Duhr’s friends and family came in from all over the country.

After Thanksgiving, Duhr’s wife, Peggy, called Stanton to thank him for the flowers.

“And she said, ‘Well, what about this matching thing?’” he said. “And I said, ‘Well, Al would’ve loved this – unassuming people who just like doing good things.’ She said, ‘OK, I’m gonna talk to our kids.’” Two days later she invited him to her house and handed him a check for $10,000. “She said, ‘This has been a tough year for us, and doing this is giving joy to our family.’” Meanwhile, public support for the matching campaign was continuing to gain ground.

“People are writing checks, coming up to me on the street with $20 – this is the beauty of Mel’s, it’s resonating with every walk of life. Whether it’s $20, $5 or helping out at an event – that all means the world to us,” said Stanton.

To add to the embarrassment of riches, two other matching donations materialized. The new Cedarburg bar and grill, At JJ’s, called Stanton and offered their own matching grant of up to $1,000. Shortly thereafter, friends and family of the late Vickie Buelow-Borchardt Brown, daughter of the former owners of the Bridge Inn, who passed away Dec. 7, also contacted Stanton and offered to match any donations made in her memory. That effort has raised more than $600 already.

“Vickie was a fan of Mel’s – just a few weeks ago she had actually attended their meat raffle,” said Deb Schultz, a friend of Brown who used to co-own the Bridge Inn. “All of us have gotten to know Mel’s Charities and gotten to know Tom. He’s just a great guy. When I talked to Tom he told me about the Match for Mel’s and that just made it even more special. I’m calling it the match made in heaven.”

The final count of all the money raised for Match for Mel’s is $47,074. It’s equal to about six years’ worth of fundraising events, going by the numbers of the nonprofit’s early days, said Stanton.

“Our very first event we cleared $350. Our second was $750, then $1,500 ... as long as we keep having fun, give the Lord the credit, don’t take ourselves too seriously, don’t get obsessed with numbers – it goes back to impacting one person’s life. That’s how this all got started.”