LYONS FALLS — Like in the original “Monopoly” game, the best part may be picking your game piece in the new local version, Lewis-Opoly, from among a pewter horse-and-buggy, a canoe with oars, a tractor, a ferris wheel and, of course, a cow.
Ultimately, however, the best part may be knowing that owning the game helped a local person facing a crisis.
Lewis County Taking Care of Our Own, a grassroots charity that has been helping people throughout Lewis County during trying times related to medical crisis and disasters like fires and floods, created and is selling the game as its major fundraiser this year.
Sarah E. Katzenstein, a member of Taking Care of our Own, got the idea for the game from her father who had purchased Herkimer-Opoly.
“She thought it would be a good fit for Lewis County,” said group member Sharon K. Kelly, who has been leading the Lewis-Opoly campaign, “A board member reached out to me last fall and said ‘We’re going to fold. We don’t have the manpower or the money,” so I came down to the next meeting and I thought, ‘I can head up this -Opoly.’”
Ms. Kelly contacted businesses throughout the county with an opportunity to buy the “real estate” of their choice to feature their business on the Lewis-Opoly board.
In addition to the properties, businesses could have their logo on Lewis-Opoly money or the back of the two decks of question and directive cards. Businesses that chose to be on the money included fun-facts about their businesses on the backs of each bill.
“At first we were going to charge the same price for all the properties, but [group co-founder and president] Tracy [L. Hurilla] said, ‘But wait, what about Park Place?’” Ms. Kelly said.
Buy-in prices were set between $100 and $1,000 for the various locations on the board and options.
“As a business owner, I thought, ‘What an investment!’” said Mrs. Hurilla. “A business can spend that in ads but this is out there forever. Once you are on it, you are on it.”
Ms. Kelly said that area businesses seemed to agree with Mrs. Hurilla, who is also the owner of The Edge Hotel and Boondocks Restaurant on Route 12, being that the majority of the “real estate” was sold within the first month and only two businesses contacted weren’t interested in participating.
Public response has also been positive since the games went on sale on Aug. 8.
“It’s hot cakes. They’re flying off the shelves,” Ms. Kelly said.
Of the 750 games made, 500 have already sold.
If Taking Care of Our Own is able to sell all of the games, the group will have raised $15,000 to meet the needs of the county residents that have already filed applications for assistance and those that are constantly being submitted, according to group board member Brenda J. Bourgeois.
“I personally feel it’s the fires we help with that make the most impact because we help every person in the family,” she said.
Taking Care of Our Own raises funds through a number of fundraisers including raffles, a “lottery board” at the SNIRT registration and, over the years, by organizing a number of trips like day trips to Lancaster, Pa., weekend adventures to New York City and much larger excursions like a cruise to Alaska.
“We try not to hit up businesses too much,” Mrs. Hurilla said, “What we take in goes right back out.”
Finding active volunteers has become the biggest challenge for the group, Mrs. Bourgeois said, and they are always looking for people with different skills to add to the organization, from being willing to sit at a raffle table to coming up with ideas for fundraising and community outreach.
Taking Care, first formed in 2008, has given about $65,000 to more than 325 people around Lewis County since 2011 in gifts of no more than $200 per person with a maximum of three in a household.
Assistance is given in the form of gas or store gift cards or payments directly to service providers depending on the person’s crisis.
The idea for the charity evolved from one of the original members having experienced a serious illness that made them realize the importance of having somewhere to turn for help.
“We live in a great community, a very, very giving community,” Mrs. Hurilla said, “We may not be rich but when it comes to helping people, we are very generous.”
Lewis-Opoly is being sold for $20 at The Edge Hotel, Route 12, Lyons Falls and in Lowville the Chamber of Commerce, Center for Business (formerly Climax), State Route 26; The Cheese Shop, Utica Avenue; Lowville Farmer’s Coop, 5500 Shady Ave.; and Buckingham Hardware and Great Outdoors, Croghan.
For more information about how to volunteer with Taking Care of Our Own, to donate or to apply for assistance, go to www.lctakingcareofourown.com or on Facebook, wdt.me/TakingCareofOurOwn.