FAIRFIELD — Businesses are entering an uncertain time. The threat of contracting or spreading the coronavirus is keeping residents cooped up in their homes instead of roaming the aisles of their local mom and pop shops.
A Fairfield couple has recognized the toll this “social distancing” will have on the town’s businesses, and is doing something about it. Hannah Nichols and David Averbach have set up a website called “Support Fairfield” where they are organizing relief efforts for business owners and kids affected by this crisis.
SupportFairfield.com provides a platform for residents to purchase gift cards from local shops and restaurants. Nichols and Averbach have also organized a series of food drives to collect canned goods for the area’s youth.
As of Thursday, March 19, residents can purchase gift cards at 19 local businesses ranging from restaurants to gyms to retail outlets. Residents have already purchased $1,700 in gift cards from the website. Nichols and Averbach said the gift cards are a shot in the arm to local shops at a time when they are in desperate need of cash flow.
“We’re all going to go to these businesses eventually,” Nichols said, “So we thought, ‘Why not front load some of that expense on our end?’ Let me purchase a gift certificate now, knowing that I’ll come to this establishment later to grab a coffee, and that will give the owner cash flow and be able to open their doors back up.”
Averbach said he and Nichols considered setting up a website to take donations for businesses similar to GoFundMe, but ultimately decided that the best win-win for both residents and shop owners was to set up a gift card registry.
Those who purchase a gift card through the website get an itemized email showing how much they spent at each business. To redeem the gift card, holders present the email to the vendor, and they’ll keep track of it from there.
“We don’t take any profit from this,” Nichols said. “We’re doing this as volunteers. Everything but the credit card fees goes straight to the business. We give them every penny we can.”
Averbach said the response to Support Fairfield has been overwhelmingly positive. Businesses have thanked Nichols and Averbach for their idea, and more of them are continuing to sign up for the gift card registry. Averbach said he’s sharing advice with others who are trying to set up a similar website in their own town, such as one in Maryland and another in California.
“We hope people can replicate this model,” Nichols said. “It’s a great benefit to the community. As long as you can sacrifice a little quarantine time, making it work is easy.”
“It’s shocking how easy this was to set up with modern technology,” Averbach added.
The gift cards aren’t the only way Support Fairfield is helping the community. As soon as they realized the coronavirus had prompted the closure of schools for four weeks, they jumped into action, organizing a food drive.
“Kids depend on school lunches and breakfasts,” Nichols said. “Jefferson County has 61 percent of kids are food insecure. We know that it’s easier for volunteers to move more quickly than organizations, so we thought we should do a food drive.”
On Wednesday, Nichols and Averbach held a food drive at the Roosevelt Community Recreation Center in Fairfield. Since the rec center and all city buildings are closed to the public, Nichols and Averbach had to set up the food drive in the building’s little vestibule. Non-perishable donations will be available for pick up at the east entrance of the Roosevelt Community Recreation Center Friday, March 20, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., and again from 5:30-6:30 p.m.
The couple’s home has also become a warehouse of sorts for donated goods. They estimate that they’ve received $500 worth of donated food since they launched the food drive less than a week ago. Any leftovers that they don’t distribute will go toward Carry On Bags, which gives students meals to eat on weekends, and The Lord’s Cupboard.
“You hear stories about people hoarding goods from the supermarket,” Nichols said. “We’ve experienced the complete opposite. When I was at the store, people were handing each other products,” insisting that the other person take the item because they needed it more.
The food drives are “no contact,” meaning that volunteers do not touch each other, and the donated items are sanitized. Nobody touches anyone else during distribution, either, Nichols added.
“Nobody has to get within 6 feet of another person,” she said.
How it began
The couple has been following the news of coronavirus for some time. In February, they returned from a trip to Mexico at a time when the virus was making headlines. Then in early March, it spread throughout the United States. By Sunday, March 15, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds was recommending that all school districts in the state close for four weeks to control the virus’s spread.
That’s the same day Nichols and Averbach decided to start Support Fairfield. Averbach owns iPhone Life Magazine in Fairfield. He told his employees to work from home.
“We talked to our friends who run restaurants and businesses here, and people were starting to panic,” he said. “When we got the call about canceling our son’s school, we knew it was getting serious. We thought, ‘What can we do?’”
Nichols said the first thing the couple thought of was to build a website to buy gift cards for local businesses. The couple launched Support Fairfield the following day, Monday, March 16. Averbach and Nichols have continued to work from home all while organizing this relief effort.
Averbach and Nichols said they hope their efforts help those in the food service industry who are working for restaurants that have had to close their dine-in options.
“We think about all those families and their lost income,” Nichols said.
Those who wish to volunteer or donate to the cause can visit SupportFairfield.com, find the group on Facebook, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.