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'When one person suffers, we all suffer:' First Coast businesses start project to help local restaurants

Two business owners started Help Local Thrive Again, a site that offers gift cards to several local restaurants that have been affected by COVID-19.

Chris Himel of Lifestyle Marketing and Andy Allen of Corner Lot Development met just a few weeks ago. Their fresh friendship, however, hasn't stopped them from trying to help other local businesses closed, affected by COVID-19.

"We're struggling too watching our clients go under, but at the same time, you have to remove your ego, remove yourself and say, 'ok, there's people worse off,'" Himel said.

Himel and Allen started the project Help Local Thrive Again. The idea is one central spot online for people to buy gift cards and merchandise from local restaurants and businesses. 

"After the initial shock of, ok, we have to take care of our family and take care of families slash business families, we sat here and very quickly saw, not just in the news and media, but also just being friends with Michael [of The Bearded Pig] and all of the restaurants they’re being hit first and foremost and they’re getting hit hard," Allen said.

One of the restaurants that signed on was Michael Schmidt's The Bearded Pig. He decided to temporarily close the doors of his business last week. 

"We had a contingency plan we thought it would be for a hurricane," he said. "It’s not, but it’s kind of the same thing. We can’t be open for a few weeks," Schmidt said.

David Cohen, President of Manifest Distilling, also joined, grateful to Himel and Allen.

"It’s more than any other city I’ve been in- there’s nobody loves their own people in just a pretty unique way and I think this is a pretty good example of the way that this city feels about their own people trying to be successful and trying to work things out," Cohen said.

Schmidt and Cohen are two of more than 30 local businesses that are a part of the project, more joining each day. Each business pledges it will match its first $500 made with a $500 gift card donation to those on the front lines of the pandemic, like first responders, nurses, mailmen and women and grocery store workers. The project has already taken off, thousands visiting the site in just three days, Himel said.

He said several people have reached out to him to offer to sponsor the project as well. Himel said that money would be used for marketing and advertising the site.

”I don’t know how long this will go on for," Cohen said. "I don’t know what the state of the hospitality industry is going to be in at the end of this, but for me more than anything is just the humanity of it all this just, seeing people step up and trying to support one another regardless of the outcome," Cohen said.

You can buy gift cards and businesses can sign up to join the project on the project's website

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