It is tradition for 99 Restaurants to give back to the community of which they are a part at celebrations and anniversaries. The task of deciding who or what to give back to is up to that particular restaurant.
For the 99 Restaurant on Belmont Street, 20 years in Easton was worth celebrating Wednesday night. And, for General Manager Mark Fontneau, there was not a more worthy organization to donate to than the Foundation for Excellence in Education in Easton.
"I didn’t really want to narrow it down to one school and have other schools in Easton be upset," Fotneau said. "So, I was told about this organization that would help out all of the schools and I was sold."
In all, the 99 donated 10 percent of its profits from what was a huge turnout Wednesday night. With profits from raffle prizes added in, FEEE was the beneficiary of $2,200.
The night was another success for the foundation, which has generated over $1 million for teacher grants and innovative technology in Easton schools since 1989.
With budget cuts totaling $900,000 in the past year to Easton's school department, board members say the foundation is needed now more than ever.
"FEEE is critical because of budget constraints," Co-Chair Ed Sharkansky said. "There is just not enough money to give the teachers the tools that they need. The foundation is very important in filling the gap."
Just since 2009, FEEE has contributed to Easton schools with mobile mac labs with 20 wireless laptops in each of Eastons elementary schools, interactive whiteboards for grades 3-8, a 15 laptop cart and wireless access point for a Mobile Learning Lab in Oliver Ames, support for Easton Middle School's music department, and much more.
"I went to Center School this year, and right behind me in boxes, ready to be installed were seven Epson Brightlink projectors," Co-Chair Jesse Barnett said. "That wouldn't have been possible without FEEE."
Barnett and Sharkansky, who became co-chairs this year, have been searching for ways to expand the organization and take FEEE to the "next level" with corporate donations and businesses beyond the realm of Easton.
The two are also searching for different ways to get the word out. Barnett, a self-described "techie" has taken the internet and multimedia avenue to show parents the things that FEEE is accomplishing - a fitting route for an organization dedicated to providing top-of-the-line technology.
With the help of recording artist Bess Rogers, who Barnett knew through working in the music industry, the co-chair created a video to show to parents at open houses to better explain what FEEE money was going towards.
"The reaction has been fantastic," he said. "We’ve had people tell us they’ve been coming to the dinner dance or playing volleyball for years but really had no clue where the money went.
I got an email from Bess [Rogers] about a week ago saying that she saw the video on YouTube and is so thrilled that we’re using it and so touched that we’re using her song."
Barnett said parents have been coming up to him at soccer games and various town events to ask about FEEE as a result of the video. He said parents who had never participated in the organization were interested in contributing to FEEE's fundraisers such as the annual Dinner Dance in March and FEEE's volleyball tournament in November.
"We were looking for something that would bring the community together for a fundraiser that wasn’t quite as elaborate [as the dinner dance] to raise money," said Ileen Wright, who is spearheading the event. "We decided on the tournament and it’s been outstanding – a huge success."
Wright said interested participants can also email her at WrightMSIB@comcast.net.
With new events, increased technology and more of a need now than ever, Barnett and Sharkansky hope FEEE will rise to new heights.
The foundation also hopes it can continue to yield the support of Easton community members and businesses. According to the 99's Fontneau, though, that shouldn't be too hard of a sell.
"It's for the kids," he said. "They’re the future of our country."