All people have a desire to be heard and seen. During this time of isolation, feeling seen can be more important than ever. Many may worry if people are seeing and thinking of them during this time, particularly small businesses owners who have had to shut their doors temporarily for everyone’s safety. One community member, Elizabeth Boyle, immediately thought of these small businesses when news started circulating in March of closures. She invited others to join her in showing shop owners that they are seen, cared for, and loved by the community.

Boyle, who has worked in the small business world for 20 years, believes that small businesses are the lifeblood of our community. As shutdowns loomed, she thought about how it would impact owners, employees, and their families. After all, in a community the size of Whatcom County, small business owners aren’t just friendly faces in a shop, they’re our neighbors.

Boyle wondered how best to rally people in our community to do something collectively with small businesses in mind.

Nearly $13,000 worth of gift cards went to support 47 different small businesses in Whatcom County. The biggest purchase of gift cards to a single business was $1,000! Photo courtesy: Elizabeth Boyle

“I think most of us have a really big heart,” she says, “but actually doing things sometimes takes somebody saying, ‘Hey, do this with me.’”

Boyle reached out to her social media network and asked them to join her in a group purchase of gift cards for local businesses, to shower them with love and support. Soon, her post was being widely shared—viewed over 1,000 times—and with lots of “I’m in!” comments. People followed a link to purchase local gift cards.

Boyle made it simple for people to support: all they had to do was select which business they’d like to purchase gift cards from, the total amount for the gift cards, and how they’d like to pay. She handled the rest by contacting the businesses with the surprise of ordering multiple gift cards. Gift cards were picked up, sanitized, and delivered by Boyle all around Whatcom County.

AMBO Ethiopian added another extra gift card in with the purchases so that the goodness could continue to be passed on to more neighbors and community members. Photo courtesy: Elizabeth Boyle

She posted her invitation on social media on March 17, and by March 23, had delivered 53 bundles of gift cards, contact-free, on front porches totaling nearly $13,000 and supporting 47 local businesses in total.

“People want to be invited into something,” she says, adding that it made it all the more joyful for her. “It would have been just as easy for me to go and buy my gift cards, but it only took a little more work to say, ‘Hey, do you want to come with me?’”

This invitational approach is something Boyle aims to apply to all parts of life. “It’ll be more fun if we do this together!” she said when thinking of how to show the community a little extra love and support.

Boyle says that several businesses were able to express their gratitude beautifully, and she tried to express those quotes out back to the people who bought the gift cards to show them the feeling they inspired in the businesses. Photo courtesy: Elizabeth Boyle

Boyle knew that the purchases of these gifts cards weren’t going to solve everything for these businesses, but that wasn’t the most important part of this project. Rather, it’s sparking the thought for businesses, “’Wait, people are gathering together and thinking about me?’” she says, “and the community responds with, ‘We see you, we support you, and we’ll be here for you.’”

Pure Bliss Desserts was one of the 47 businesses on the receiving end of Boyle and the community’s generosity, and the gift card purchases came at the perfect time to remind the shop of their community’s support and appreciation.

“In the first few weeks—and beyond, but it was really heavy in the beginning—things were so uncertain. Can we stay open? If we stay open, will it be worth it? How long? The list of unknown was a million miles long,” says Megan Mowry, shop manager at Pure Bliss. But being chosen by so many in gift card purchases warmed their hearts and made them feel supported and loved. “We felt so honored and supported to be included in her list of businesses; what a compliment that was. It was such a pick-me-up in a hard time, seeing such a kind act to help so many Bellingham businesses.”

“Not everyone can right now, but for those of us who can step out and do something, it’s so healing for ourselves, as well,” Boyle says about organizing something good for the community, no matter how big or small. Photo courtesy: Elizabeth Boyle

While Boyle said this group gift card purchase was just a small way of doing something collectively to make it feel like a bigger impact to our businesses, it has sparked a ripple effect of people continuing to buy gift cards. She says  it’s been amazing to see all the other projects come out of this one, and is overjoyed with the collective impact they’re having on the community.

Like many others, Boyle now wonders what happens after some of this subsides and we ease back in. “How do we keep that community love and support for one another?” She encourages others to trust their instincts, and if they feel called to do something beautiful, follow that call and make it happen. But also consider who you can invite to join you. It might make all the difference.

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