Like most of the world, the residents of a small town in Iowa are stuck at home, feeling isolated, alone and trying their best to stay positive during the coronavirus pandemic.
So when an anonymous donor gave everyone in Earlham $150 worth of gift cards for food, the community received something more valuable than money: hope.
It started on March 26, when Earlham Mayor Jeff Lillie received a call from a friend who told him there was a donor interested in injecting money into the town’s economy. Earlham, population 1,450, is 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of Des Moines.
At first, the donor, who did not reveal their identity to the mayor, said they would buy 100 gift cards from three local businesses. An hour later, his friend called Lillie again and said the donor was bumping the number up to 250. An hour after that, the number was raised to 500.
“I said to him, ‘At 500, you’re darn near giving a gift card to every single household in Earlham’,” Lillie said. “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.”
But what Lillie didn’t know was that the donor wasn’t going to buy 549 cards in all — they were buying 549 gift cards from each of the three businesses. In total, they donated $82,350, meaning each business received more than $27,000.
Exactly one week later, every person in town woke up to a surprise in their mailbox: An envelope containing a letter from the city and three $50 gift cards to West Side Bar and Grille, Hometown Market, a grocery store, and Trostel’s Broken Branch, a restaurant and coffee shop.
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