Staying strong: community rallies behind businesses, nonprofits
— Created April 15, 2020 by Kathy Reed
By Kacie Jo Voeller
While many of the people of Whidbey Island stay home to combat the spread of COVID-19, community spirit is still out in full force. Thousands of dollars in sales and donations from the community have poured in as businesses and nonprofits run campaigns to help support the local economy, business owners and the needs of other islanders.
Eric Peterson, owner of Ashley’s Design and Letterman Jackets, started the #WhidbeyStrong initiative to help businesses limiting their operations or which had closed down due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order. For each shirt with a specific logo sold, $10 goes directly to the respective business. Peterson said the initiative reached its initial goal of $10,000 for Whidbey businesses on the twelfth day of the campaign, and has reset the goal to $15,000.
“It has really been incredible to see the community rally behind local businesses,” he said. “I have gotten emails from people saying they are getting a couple of shirts now and will get a couple more on their next payday. It’s just incredible to see the generosity of the Whidbey community and willingness to support local businesses.”
Peterson said there are currently 91 businesses participating in the WhidbeyStrong initiative and he expects to see the list continue to grow. The full list of participants and their shirts can be seen at www.ashleysdesign.com/whidbeystrong/.
“My son and I go in on Saturday, and I personally write each check,” he said. “We talk about the businesses we know or the owners and what each one can do with the money. I received one email from an owner that said how much they were struggling and how much they appreciated getting that check. I am happy to see so many people step up to help these local businesses and to be part of it, but also extremely sad that we have to do this and people are struggling.”
Peterson said he hopes to see continued support as the stay-at-home order remains in effect.
“This is people’s livelihood – they have everything wrapped up in their business,” he said. “So the continued support is so important for those struggling businesses. That is why I am happy to keep adding new businesses because they bring their fan base to the site to buy their own shirt and might see another business and decide to get a second and help them out.”
Other forms of supporting businesses have also been started throughout the island. Launching this week in Langley, businesses will have the opportunity to join the Langley Virtual Village, an online platform where visitors can find a wide range of Langley’s stores. Inge Morascini, executive director of the Langley Chamber of Commerce, said the site will provide a central place for businesses to provide information, and if they choose, their products and services.
“Our intent is to provide a more expansive explanation of all of the businesses and bring in the human side of the businesses by adding a philosophy or a personal statement from the shop owner as well as an image of the shop owner or owners.”
In an effort to stimulate cash flow for closed businesses or those limited in their operation, Morascini said consumers will be able to purchase gift cards to shop at the stores in amounts of $20, $50, $75 or $100, with the ability to redeem the cards when stores reopen or through the Langley Virtual Village. Morascini said as an extra incentive to buy gift cards now, the value of the cards will increase by 20 percent after 45 days.
“Part of the inspiration just came from the community phoning the chamber of commerce and asking, ‘How can I help support businesses while they are closed?’” she said.
The site is an extension of the Visit Langley website (www.visitlangley.com) and is open to both chamber and non-chamber members at this time, according to Morascini. For businesses which choose to do so, the site will also be commerce-enabled, and visitors can purchase products through the village. Businesses interested in becoming a part of the online platform can apply at www.visitlangley.com/langley-virtual-village-business-sign-up/.
“Right now, I think every businessperson needs to take advantage of whatever edge they can possibly get and this one happens to be free,” she said. “There is no cost to it, it takes less than five minutes to provide us with the information, the application is right online. It is quick, it is easy and there is no cost associated. All they have to do if they are not a current (chamber) member is fill out the membership application we send them.”
On the nonprofit side, the Whidbey Community Foundation (WCF) awarded its first round of grants from the COVID-19 Community Resilience Fund. Nancy Conard, executive director of the WCF, said the organization granted $40,000 to nine nonprofits, including WhidbeyHealth Foundation, Senior Services of Island County, Helping Hand of South Whidbey and more.
“In the initial phases, WCF is prioritizing grants to community-based organizations that are serving those who are immediately and disproportionately suffering from this crisis,” Conard said. “The immediate focus areas include, but are not limited to: food insecurity, economic insecurity, housing insecurity, access to health care and prescription medications, costs related to mitigating virus transmissions, access to transportation, and access to childcare.”
Conard said through community support, $100,000 has already been raised for the COVID-19 Community Resilience Fund, and WCF will continue to review and award grants to nonprofits.
“I am just really proud of our community,” she said. “People who are in a position to donate have stepped up and people who are able to volunteer or already were volunteering have increased what they are doing. And I cannot say enough about the healthcare people and first responders that are taking care of us.”
For more information on the COVID-19 Community Resilience Fund, visit www.whidbeyfoundation.org.