When Geri Emmett started the Duffy’s Foundation in 2016, she was determined to create an organization that would honor the memory of her late husband, Paul Emmett, by doing the kind of community projects he would like.
Paul Emmett, who was president of Duffy’s Sports Grill, died in 2015 of bile duct cancer at age 62.
Palm Beach resident Geri Emmett says the foundation, whose paramount mission is community service, is becoming the perfect tribute to the life he led.
She cites his involvement with different charities in Palm Beach County and the fact that he positioned all Duffy’s restaurants as meeting places for the communities in which they are located.
“We pride ourselves on being the spot you pick to celebrate your win after the Little League game or to grab a table to catch up with friends or family, where everyone knows everyone by name when you walk in the door,” says Emmett.
Over the years, the foundation has worked with charities such as Forgotten Soldiers Outreach, Special Olympics, Palm Beach School for Autism and the Girl Scouts and this year, Emmett says, will surpass $1 million in charitable giving.
Recently, Emmett decided she wanted to do even more and figured a holiday toy drive would dovetail nicely into the foundation’s vision.
After some research she decided to join forces with Toys for Tots, the holiday drive run by the U.S. Marines. She says a number of factors influenced her decision. Primarily she had read that the bankruptcy of key supporter Toys R Us had significantly reduced the number of toys flowing to Toys for Tots.
She also loved the ads, and says Toys for Tots seemed like a natural progression from the relationship the organization had with Forgotten Soldiers. The fact that her father, the late Daniel Murphy, was a Marine, was the cherry on top in her selection.
By the time she got it all organized there was only a two-week window in which to collect toys. So Emmett says she sent out an email blast to the chain’s MVP customers and offered $5 off for each toy they brought in. MVP cards offer discounts on frequent purchases.
The result? Almost 2,000 toys. Emmett plans to double that number next year.
“When you start something new, you have to get your feet wet,” she says, and this was the year of getting the foundation’s feet wet in the toy drive business. Next year, they’ll be more prepared, she says, and definitely will start the drive earlier so they can have more time to collect but still stay on the Toys for Tots schedule for toys to be given to them.
“Next year we hope to double that number … (and) we might need bigger boxes,” she says.
Now that the toy drive has ended, Emmett has other ideas percolating about how to get the foundation to be even more reflective of her husband.
“The foundation just took what he did naturally every day and put it under one corporate banner to better serve the organizations and communities. We developed pillar partners and programs that we could build upon yearly … which we are doing,” Emmett says.
She says she has the luxury of focusing exclusively on the foundation, while her husband juggled working hard with giving back to the community.
Emmett worked for beauty company Trish McEvoy Ltd. based in New York for 30 years as vice president of marketing before taking over the foundation full time in 2017.
Born in New York and raised in Oyster Bay on Long Island, she’s a graduate of the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
She credits her mother, Joan O’Connor, with instilling a sense of service in her. O’Connor, who worked in fundraising for Catholic Charities for 35 years, always told her that everyone can give back — “whether it’s time, talent or money,” Emmett says.
O’Connor, 86, who lives part time in Florida, is still giving back, Emmett says, with her current project being to raise money for a school in Brooklyn.
Emmett credits the restaurant’s regular customers for the toy drive’s success as well as the other contributions to charities.
“Everything we do for the community is with the help of our loyal MVPs … they are partners in our commitments to the projects we undertake in our communities. We can only do what we do with their help,” she says.
A recent golf tournament, the third Paul C. Emmett Memorial Golf Classic, raised $109,000, which was split equally between the foundation and the Special Olympics.
Emmett co-owns Duffy’s with Carlos Morrison. The restaurant, which Emmett says is the largest privately owned restaurant chain in the state, has 34 Florida locations. The nearest location to Palm Beach is the restaurant at 255 Clematis St. in downtown West Palm Beach.
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