People around the world are feeling the effects of the coronavirus, and that includes small towns, such as Earlham, Iowa. The small community, located about 30 miles west of Des Moines, has a population of 1450 and they have been hit hard.
An anonymous donor came forward with an act of generosity that helped to stimulate the economy and it is giving people everywhere hope. Every person in Earlham was provided with free gift cards to local businesses, for a total of $150 in food.
Jeff Lillie is the mayor of Earlham and he got a call on March 26. 2020. He was being connected with a donor who wanted to boost the town’s economy.
As a start, the donor, who remained anonymous, would buy 100 gift cards from three local businesses. An hour later, they came back with an offer to buy 250 gift cards. An hour later, the mystery caller decided to give 500 gift cards.
“I said to him, at 500, you’re darn near giving a gift card to every single household in Earlham,” Lillie said. “When I told him there were 549 households in town, he said ‘Done.’ And that was it. I was ecstatic because it made sure everyone would get a card.”
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An anonymous Madison County donor purchased more than $82,000 worth of gift cards to three Earlham business to help the town during the pandemic. The purchase was enough to give three $50 gift cards to every household in the town. "You couldn’t even believe what was happening," Jennifer Trostel, whose husband owns Trostel's Broken Branch, told reporters, "You were so grateful you started to cry. You couldn’t believe that people would actually want to help you in such a huge way that you can't even fathom that kind of help."
Even the mayor doesn’t know who the person is. In addition, the mayor didn’t realize that the donor was going to buy 549 gift cards from each of the three local businesses. It would be a total of 1647 gift cards, costing a total of $82,350.
West Side Bar and Grille, Hometown Market, and Trostel’s Broken Branch, all local businesses, each received more than $27,000.
The plan was kept a secret until envelopes with three $50 gift cards were delivered a week later to every mailbox in Earlham.
After closing the deal, the mayor said that he was overwhelmed and broke into tears.
“It came at the end of a couple really hard weeks,” Lillie told CNN. “I remember going home and walking through the front door, and I couldn’t speak for a minute. I was just crying like a baby, and my little boy saw me and wrapped around my leg and said, ‘Daddy what’s wrong?’ And eventually I was able to choke it out: ‘Buddy, right now, for once, nothing’s wrong.’”
Trostel’s Broken Branch is a coffee shop that received part of the stimulus. They got their start only a few days before nonessential businesses were closed down on March 17. 2020.
The co-owner of the shop, Jennifer Trostel, was shocked when they were asked to prepare 549 gift cards. The restaurant was new, so the gift certificates had to be ordered on Amazon because they didn’t have any yet.
Other restaurants had moved over to take-out only operations, but Troy Trostel said that they were unprepared to make the move. If it weren’t for the donation, Jennifer feels that the restaurant would not even survive the pandemic. She said, “it gave us hope.”
“To be able to pay our bills and know that it’s OK, we don’t have to close our doors forever. We’ll be here when this is over. I don’t think we could be able to say that without the donation.”
It isn’t clear who the anonymous donor is, but the Mayor says he would like to tell them “Thank you 549 times.”
Residents of the town who are not going to use the cards and would like to donate them can take them to City Hall where they will be redistributed to families in the Earlham Community School District.
“Nobody has a lot to smile about the last few weeks, and this is definitely something to smile about,” Lillie told the Des Moines Register.
“There’s a lot of families that $150 isn’t going to be a game-changer, but it’s still something to make you feel good that there’s good people in the world that are doing good things. It gives you some hope.”
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