ST. PETERSBURG — For a year, @stpetemoodboard has been slinging hyperlocal memes about everything from real estate development to the fear of getting run over by a Central Avenue pedal pub. Now the Instagram account is raising thousands of dollars for Hurricane Ian relief.
It all started with a thirst trap.
The meme page admin, Bryant Nardozzi, has been close friends with Alec Kugler ever since high school. On Friday morning, the pair stopped by their friend’s St. Pete Beach business, Grove Surf and Coffee. Nardozzi, 33, snapped a photo of Kugler smiling inside the shop.
“Hot singles in your area are at @grovesurfandcoffee,” Nardozzi wrote in a St. Pete Moodboard Instagram story.
The messages started flooding in. The eligible bachelorettes of St. Petersburg demanded to know: Who is this man?
Among the sea of thirsty messages, one follower sent in a proposal: What if they auctioned off a date with Kugler for Hurricane Ian relief?
“I immediately thought, that’s an amazing idea,” Nardozzi said. “We’re sitting in a coffee shop that was boarded up with plywood a week and a half ago. It could have just as easily been Grove. We had just watched our friends go through the whole process of being like, are we about to lose our business that we just worked for three or four years to create?”
Kugler, a professional photographer based in New York, is more used to being the one behind the scenes. But for a good cause, he was down to help. Nardozzi whipped up an Instagram story with a heart-shaped photo of his buddy’s face, surrounded by stats:
Hobbies: Surfing, photography, beach combing, thrifting, hiking, reading
Loves his mom! Pays for the first date! Clear communicator! Emotionally developed!
Participants could make donations after the auction ended to a charity of their choice, just as long as it helped folks impacted by Hurricane Ian. Kugler, who has been staying with Nardozzi during a long vacation, would set up the date with the winner before heading back to New York.
It didn’t take long for the bids to start rolling in via Instagram. Local businesses wanted to help, too.
Olivia Poppy Salon in St. Pete Beach pledged to cover $150 worth of hair and makeup styling for the lucky lady. Then Ink and Glo in St. Pete reached out to offer brow services.
The package grew to include dinner at Baba and an after-hours shopping session at St. Pete boutique Shoreline Sugars, featuring wine and a $150 gift card. Lokal Swim Co. pitched in with a swimsuit worth $110. Bandit Coffee offered to supply coffee before the date; Pete’s Bagels and General Store pledged breakfast the morning after.
Meanwhile, two local businesses offered to match the winning bid up to $500: Terrapin Ridge Farms in Clearwater and Grove Surf and Coffee, where the whole story started. Brick Street Homes joined in on Monday afternoon, offering a full match for a bid up to $3,000.
By the end of the fundraiser at 6 p.m. Monday, the winning bid was $1,200. Thanks to matches, the final amount donated to charity from the date came out to $3,400. The winner, a recent area transplant named Julie, declined to provide her last name.
“I’m super flattered,” said Kugler, who was recognized out in public during Sunday’s Indie Flea event. “At this point, it’s bigger than me.”
“I would love to say the winning bid is the person who is like, ‘I’m going to get all of this stuff anyways,’” Nardozzi said. “But now we’re well up above the value of what the goods are, so I think it’s mostly people wanting to help out charity — and Alec being hot.”
Funds from the date will go to All Hands and Hearts, a group “on the ground providing direct support to SWFL.” St. Pete Moodboard also set up a fundraiser for this organization via Instagram. Additional donations from followers, combined with the date funds and matches, have brought the total to roughly $5,000 as of mid-Tuesday.
Nardozzi has learned a lot from the experience.
“It has opened my eyes to how many different things you can do for dates. There are eco tours, museums you can go to, a really awesome park system in St. Pete,” Nardozzi said. “It’s cool to see that side of it, and also I think people are a little worn out on the swiping thing.”
A local woman volunteered to “provide doula services if the date ends with a baby.” One other woman simply messaged, " MARRY ME!”
“I hope this isn’t an indication of how rough it is to date in St. Pete,” commented another.
Kugler is looking forward to his date in St. Pete, a city that has changed a lot since he was growing up in nearby Indian Rocks Beach.
“I think at the end, this is a really cool, fun project that is having such vibration in the St. Pete community,” he said. “It’s crazy to see how you can pull together so many people for such a good cause.”
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Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage
FEMA: Floridians hurt by Ian can now apply for FEMA assistance. Here’s how.
THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.
POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.
WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?
MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.