Gift card challenge gives 'urgent relief'

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BRATTLEBORO — The recent 48-hour Gift Card Challenge showed an outpouring of support for local businesses and families struggling as the coronavirus pandemic has closed up establishments and left people out of work.

"The idea was we needed to help the community hibernate until they're able to open," Stephanie Bonin, executive director of Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, said during the Select Board meeting held virtually last week.

Bonin said she created the event knowing rent was due and bills were coming in. The challenge lasted from 10 a.m. Friday, April 3, to 10 a.m. Sunday, April 5.

It began with a $5,000 contribution from a community member. Every gift card purchased for a business was matched with one that went to a family in need to the same business.

Retreat Farm's Pickup Pantry, an emergency program made in the wake of the pandemic, provided the gift cards to the families. About 50 families a week are being given a bag of healthy food through the program.

Altogether, 41 downtown businesses participated. Bonin said her group helped more than half of them set up mechanisms for customers to buy gift cards online.

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Businesses offering take-out during the pandemic also participated. Bonin said they are likely only seeing about 20 percent of their normal revenue.

The challenge was declared met after four hours but Bonin said she probably should have called it after two hours. She then received a call from another community member who wanted to put up $5,000 to keep it going.

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"That match was also met very quickly," she said, recalling her excitement at the enthusiasm for the challenge.

Then came three more calls: $1,000 from a family with a second home here, $1,000 from another family with a second home here whose ties began with SIT Graduate Institute, and $1,000 from another community member.

The challenge put $57,503 "directly into the hands of our community, both families in need and the business owners, which to me is exactly what they need right now," Bonin said, adding that $13,000 went to families through the gift cards.

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"The number sounds large and it is but so is the impact of this pandemic on our community," she told the Reformer in a text message response. "This challenge created small measures of urgent relief and is just one piece of relief that needs to work with many other local, state and federal efforts. We will keep going!"

Select Board Chairman Tim Wessel called the effort "a great result." He said he watched the updates on the challenge live as they came in via Facebook. (Those updates can still be seen by visiting the Downtown Brattleboro page.)

"This infusion of gift cards, not just the cash but the trust and caring they represent, gives us hope for the future of us and all of downtown Brattleboro," Leda Scheintaub, co-owner of Dosa Kitchen, said in a statement on brattleboro.com.

Bonin said she plans to do another project to help the community.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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