The world has been on lockdown for the past two weeks as we attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. Within our bubbles, we’re all doing our best to adapt to life indoors. But what are we able to do for others? How can we support our communities from a distance? The most vulnerable among us need a helping hand right now.
Amid the burdens of closed storefronts, laid-off staff, and unpaid bills, independent businesses, a group deeply affected by this pandemic, continue to step up. They are the heart of our communities, now more than ever. Shining stories of altruism in business pop up everywhere we look—like distillers making hand sanitizer or brands pivoting production to face masks.
We reached out to a few of these generous founders, asking them to share their stories. Here are six independent businesses that rose to the occasion—and responded to this unprecedented challenge with kindness and compassion.
1. FIGS: Outfitting healthcare providers
“Donating scrubs to healthcare providers in need is part of our DNA,” says Jenny Seyfried, FIGS VP of Brand. Through the brand’s Threads for Threads initiative, FIGS already shows its support for the healthcare profession year-round. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the company created a dedicated application system and task force specifically to help this group that the world now greatly depends on, working on the front lines of the pandemic.
It’s an unprecedented time, and we plan on continuing to innovate and find solutions for the healthcare community.
“We are incredibly humbled and privileged to be in a position to speak directly to the healthcare professionals working day and night to keep us safe,” Jenny says. FIGS has committed to donating 30,000 sets of scrubs to hospitals over the next two months. But Jenny acknowledges that, as a brand that is deeply connected to this community, FIGS’ work is only beginning. “It’s an unprecedented time,” she says, “and we plan on continuing to innovate and find solutions for the healthcare community.”
2. Wild North Flowers: Blooms for the frontline
In Toronto, Jennifer Fowlow from Wild North Flowers acted quickly to adapt in the wake of the government mandate to close non-essential businesses. She pivoted to an online-only model and continues to provide flower delivery to the community. Though her business is taking a hit financially, Jennifer is doing her part to help others during this time, too.
With the COVID-19 pandemic turning our worlds upside down, this kind of gratitude is more important than ever.
A monthly tradition—a nomination-based flower giveaway—is now happening daily. “We had well over 100 submissions in the first 24 hours,” Jennifer says. Wild North’s followers can nominate anyone working the front lines to help us all get through COVID-19. Through Jennifer’s generosity, she’s bringing floral joy to nurses, doctors, and service workers each day. “With the COVID-19 pandemic turning our worlds upside down,” she says, “this kind of gratitude is more important than ever.”
Wild North Flowers also donated pre-paid flowers from cancelled events to the local community. “We know purchasing flowers is a luxury many cannot afford, especially right now,” says Jennifer. “The fact that we can help people bring a bit of nature indoors makes us happy and fulfilled.”
3. Bird Rock Coffee Roasters: Beans for baristas
When other businesses around them began to shutter, the staff of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters knew it was only a matter of time before they had to close too. “This pandemic caught us completely off guard,” says Bird Rock’s Joseph Rusk. They first shifted to a grab-and-go model,and then closed all six of their San Diego locations. With almost 100 employees now out of work, Joseph says the company moved fast to set up ways to help, including cooking meals for staff.
The outpouring of generosity from our customers has been amazing.
Bird Rock’s Barista Relief Blend is available for purchase on the company’s website—and all proceeds will be donated to its team members. Other products, like beanies and additional bean blends, will also support café employees, and customers can donate directly to a GoFundMe at checkout, set up for the same purpose. “The outpouring of generosity from our customers has been amazing,” says Joseph. “Bird Rock and its customers have raised several thousand dollars for our staff so far.”
In the meantime, sales have shifted entirely online, and Bird Rock’s goal is to “have a place for employees to come back to once this pandemic is over,” says Joseph. “We are all getting through this the best we can.”
4. Peace Collective: Meals for the most vulnerable
Lifestyle and apparel brand Peace Collective closed its retail locations along with many other businesses worldwide. “We’ve pretty much thrown out our game plan for the year,” says founder Yanal Dhailieh, “and we’re reimagining what it means to be an ecommerce brand moving forward.” Since Peace Collective is already a company that considers community in everything it does, the team decided to put their money where the mouths are.
Somehow we have all found ways to connect as a community.
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, Peace Collective was already donating school meals with every purchase. In the past few weeks, it identified that local food banks have been hit hard by the pandemic as food demand increases and volunteer hours decline due to self-isolation.
For every garment sold from the brand’s Home Is collection, three meals will now be provided to one of the seven partnering food banks across Canada. “This is a unique situation where everyone in the country is feeling the same way—isolated and uncertain,” says Yanal, “but somehow we have all found ways to connect as a community.”
Podcast: For more about Peace Collective, listen to their interview on Shopify Masters.
5. Summersalt: A community lifeline
Summersalt is a brand dedicated to joyful moments: swimming, traveling, sleeping, and lounging. Its apparel basics for women are perfect for isolation, too—a state that for many lacks joy. “And in this overwhelming moment,” says Summersalt on Instagram, “we feel it’s as important as ever to bring some brightness into the world.”
The brand launched Joycast, a free SMS-based emotional support hotline that connects those in isolation with members of their team who text back positive diversions—a meditation video, a self-care tip, or puppy GIFs. “We've had 1000s of messages and people are so excited to get their dose of joy in their inbox,” say founders Reshma Chamberlin and Lori Coulter.
Summersalt’s Instagram is also a source of additional community support, including live virtual fitness classes with guest instructors. Creating resources for their community is uniting their team around a goal, say the founders. “We are supporting each other by focusing on bringing joy to our customers.”
6. Fragola: Feeding little mouths
Before the pandemic hit, Fragola founder Augustina Valenza was selling her fresh baby food to families across Canada. Not much has changed on that front in the past few weeks—babies still need to eat—but she saw the crisis as an opportunity to help those less fortunate. “I have the ability and platform to help,” she says. “I’m going to help.”
Every story is heartbreaking. A lot of people have been immediately affected by this pandemic.
Augustina has been receiving thousands of messages from parents. “Every story is heartbreaking,” she says. “A lot of people have been immediately affected by this pandemic.” In response to these messages, Augustina asked her followers to step up: purchase a gift card and it will be matched with a mom or dad in need. The program has also helped supply food to vulnerable seniors on pureed diets.
As of March 22, 6,500 containers of food had been donated, and Augustina has increased production to meet demand. “I’m honestly just winging it,” she says.
What are some simple acts of kindness your business is carrying out to help your community during the pandemic? Share your stories in the comments below.Illustration by Gracia Lam