Anonymous Donor Mails Gift Cards to Every Household in Iowa Town

Spreading hope to one community in these trying times.

Apr 18, 2020

Earlham is a small city – more like the size of a town – in Iowa where its 1,450 residents are staying at home, and trying not to feel isolated from their community during the Coronavirus pandemic. Now they have even more reason to feel connected. An anonymous donor gave everyone in Earlham $150 worth of gift cards for local food establishments.  

Residents of the city woke up on a Thursday morning in late March and found an amazing gift in their mailboxes. There were three $50 certificates to West Side Bar and Grille, Hometown Market, and Trostel's Broken Branch; all local food establishments.

But it started about a week earlier according to the Des Moines Register. That’s when Mayor Jeff Lillie received a phone call from a man who was contacting him on behalf of a potential donor to the community who wanted to remain anonymous.

The Register said that man told the mayor that the donor wanted to pump up the local economy that was hard hit by the coronavirus by purchasing 100 gift cards to a local grille and grocery store. The mayor told the donor's proxy that a new restaurant just opened before Iowa governor Kim Reynolds ended dine-in-service and that it should also be included in this stimulus package.

This was agreed to and the donor upped the amount of gift cards to 250 one hour later and then doubled it to 500 one hour after that.

"I said to him, at 500, you're darn near giving a gift card to every single household in Earlham," Lillie told CNN. "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."

After ascertaining that the businesses agreed to come up with all the gift cards, no easy task especially for a new eatery, it was a done deal. That meant that every household received three gift cards, totaling $82,350, with each local business receiving more than $27,000.

Trostel's Broken Branch was so new that they didn’t even have gift cards yet. "We were in the middle of interviews for our employees, hiring some waitstaff and trying to get everything ready," restaurant owner Jennifer Trostel said. "Just about then, everything closed down. It hit right when we were going to open our restaurant."

Trostel was unable to make the switch to take-out but now she knows that the restaurant will be able to open when the restrictions are lifted.

Lille said that he was "completely overwhelmed" by this act of generosity. Especially since people in the town had lost their jobs and were struggling financially. "It came at the end of a couple really hard weeks."

"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.'"

The secret was kept by the mayor and the business owners so that it would be a complete surprise when the mail arrived according to the Register. The envelopes contained a letter that explained the situation along with the cards.

"That was the longest two days ever," Lillie told the Register.

The city wants to pay this gift forward. If people do not need to use the gift cards, they can donate them to families in need by dropping them in the bill pay slot at city hall. The cards will be given to needy families in the local school district to distribute.

The anonymous donor did much more than just contribute to the financial well-being of Earlham with this generous act-of-kindness. He or she helped raise the spirits of the community and gave people hope for the future. There is nothing better than that.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.