Monday, April 27, 2020 / by Ken Couture
How can we help?
With businesses closed, Las Vegans out of work and first responders pushed to the limit, that question is becoming more prevalent in the valley. A new gift card program, which went live Wednesday, aims to answer that question by providing a way for people to help front-line COVID-19 responders and struggling local businesses.
Switch to Kindness is a collaboration among the Vegas Chamber, Switch, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Foundation and the Las Vegas-based gift card company ItsOn.Me. It allows people to purchase gift cards from local businesses and donate them to first responders.
“The Switch to Kindness campaign is a great way to help,” says Tom Kovach, executive director of the LVMPD Foundation. “Because not only is it showing appreciation and support to those on the front line … it also provides direct economic impact to our local economy.”
The idea grew out of a gift-a-meal program ItsOn.Me tested this month in Chicago and New York, which has generated over 1,000 meal purchases.
“We thought it was a great idea, and we wanted to give people an opportunity to contribute, not only by purchasing things, but also to pay it forward for our first responders,” Vegas Chamber CEO Mary Beth Sewald says.
The foundation’s involvement provides gift-card purchasers an added level of confidence that their gifts will go to the right people.
“We are playing two roles,” Kovach explains. “One is the distribution partner for the (electronic) gift cards. We are also fulfilling the role of fiscal agent — if someone or an organization would like to donate gift cards but doesn’t want to go to the website to purchase them, they are able to make a contribution to the foundation and then the LVMPD Foundation will purchase and distribute them.”
While the program originally focused on restaurant gift cards, the inclusion of the Chamber of Commerce has allowed it to offer a wider variety of gifting options. More than 30 businesses are on board, and that number is expected to double or triple by the end of the week. Most early participants are restaurants (both on and off the Strip), but there’s also a jeweler, a photographer and even a water park. Some participating businesses are open, allowing recipients to use the gifts immediately, but others are shut down.
Carletta O’Neal’s two Capelli Salon locations are temporarily closed. She says the cash generated now by people purchasing gifts to be redeemed later could be “super-significant” to small businesses like hers.
“Our doors are physically closed, so we can’t earn any money whatsoever,” O’Neal explains. “But sadly bills don’t stop coming in. And every time you don’t pay a bill, it just gets larger and larger. So for a lot of businesses, this closure could mean not being able to get out from under the weight of all these extraordinary expenses.”
Buying a gift is a straightforward process. You simply visit giftlocal.com, choose the business you want to support and make a purchase. (vegaschamber.com also offers a direct link to the site, along with other COVID-19 resources for businesses.) Some companies allow you to purchase specific items, while others offer cards in specific dollar amounts. Select LVMPD Foundation as the recipient, and leave any specific requests on who should get the gift in the notes section. You also have the option of sending the gift directly to anyone you choose.
“You will have the option to indicate if there’s an area, or group of first responders, whom you’d like the gift cards to go to,” Kovach explains. “So you could say Henderson PD. Or you could say St. Rose Hospital. And we would direct those specific gift cards to those recipients.”
For businesses that want to be included, the chamber is offering a free basic membership through at least June 30 and will add new members into the gifting program. Businesses can sign up at vegaschamber.com and giftlocal.com.
Alex Hult, whose restaurant Flights in the Miracle Mile Shops is closed right now, says the program can help businesses like his survive the crisis.
“Right now, cash is king more than ever,” he says. “Every dollar matters so much, because you have no other way to get funds in and there’s all this money going out.”
Kovach, who has seen the looks on the faces of first responders when they receive gifts from the community, says they mean more than the sender may ever know.
“Whether it’s police officers or firefighters or EMTs or hospital personnel — all of them express great gratitude and are definitely recognizing that the public is thanking them.”
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