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Gift card challenge aims to help businesses and individuals in need

In response to the financial strain the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on local businesses as well as individuals, Albert Lea’s Convention and Visitors Bureau has started a gift card challenge. 

People can purchase gift cards in $25 increments from local businesses, and then ask the business to hold the gift card. The gift card purchaser will then fill out a form on the CVB’s website, www.explorealbertlea.com. The CVB will then contact the business with the name of a person in need who has been granted the use of the gift card. People in need of immediate help can fill out a form on the CVB’s website to be connected with gift cards as well. 

Holly Karsjens, who is transitioning into her new role as the CVB director with Susie Petersen retiring next month, said the two women were inspired by other communities trying something similar and seeing success. 

“I think we are all feeling a sense of ‘what can I do to help’ in many aspects of support for our community,” Karsjens said. “Susie and I felt like we needed to come up with something that could attempt to help with a few different sides of our economical issues we are facing.”

She said the hope is that there will be multiple layers of support coming from the challenge. Local businesses should hopefully feel the financial support from gift cards being purchased, along with the emotional support that the community is pulling for them, Karsjens said. She hopes the gift card challenge also helps people and families in need realize their fellow community members care and are there for them during a historical and unprecedented time of uncertainty. 

Karsjens said the CVB also hopes to connect those in need with additional resources they may not be aware of as they apply for the gift cards. 

The pay-it-forward initiative has already seen a strong response, she said. Four requests from those in need have come in, and $300 in gift cards had been purchased as of Wednesday afternoon. Farmers State Bank has stepped up, according to Karsjens, as the business has said it will match the first $1,500 in gift cards purchased through the challenge with more cards purchased from local businesses. For those who want to help out but may not be financially able to at this point, Karsjens said reviews, shares and likes on businesses’ social media pages are still ways of showing support.

“Now more than ever, shopping local is a matter of doors ever being able to open again for many of our local restaurants and retailers,” she said. “They have worked so extremely hard to get where they were before this storm overcame us, let’s pull together and sandbag around them with our support so they don’t get swept away.”

 

About Colleen Harrison

Colleen Harrison is the photo editor at the Albert Lea Tribune. She does photography and writes general-assignment stories.

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