Even those who weren't eligible to receive stimulus checks pitched in to help businesses in the small town stay afloat.
When the coronavirus pandemic forced her to temporarily shut her family's small-town Mexican restaurant in March, Brenda Hernandez Ramirez feared that it might be the end for her business. With no income and bills piling up, Ramirez—who owns Taqueria Hernandez in Holyoke, Colorado—did not think that they'd survive the challenges presented by COVID-19. Although she saw a glimmer of hope when she heard of a Help Holyoke campaign that had been started to assist small businesses, she didn't expect to receive more than a few hundred dollars to help pay her utilities.
As grateful as she was at the thought of just that, Ramirez had no idea just how big of an impact the Help Holyoke project would have on the whole community. According to The Washington Post, it was only two months later—when Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Director Holly Ferguson stopped by with a check—that she came to know that people in her farming community had donated their COVID-19 government stimulus checks and dipped into their bank accounts to shell out enough money to help every business in town affected by the shutdown. The campaign raised a total of $93,592, giving Ramirez about $2,000 to pay her restaurant bills and smaller checks for each of her six employees.
I am in awe of this town. Help Holyoke campaign: Stimulus check donations help every business in town hurt by coronavirus https://t.co/v8mq2yZHS8— Harriet Heithaus 🌊 (@NDN_HarrietHeit) September 2, 2020
"We were overwhelmed with emotion," said the 24-year-old. "Feeling our community's support during the pandemic gave us the ambition to keep on going. I'm beyond thankful." None of this would've been possible if not for Tom Bennett, president of the town's First Pioneer National Bank, who wondered whether the community members would be open to donating the $1,200 stimulus checks that most had received from the federal government. He was aware of just how difficult it is to run a business in a small town even under normal circumstances and wished to help in any which way he could.
"Because we're a farming community, a lot of people were still working and didn't really need those checks," said Bennett. "Having our restaurants, bars, salons, the gym, and movie theater shut down was unprecedented. You start thinking, 'What if that was me?'" He got in touch with Ferguson, Brenda Brandt—publisher of the Holyoke Enterprise—and Phillips County Economic Development Director Trisha Herman to fill them in on his idea for saving their downtown.
"We love our small town and wanted somebody to get the [stimulus] money who needed it more than we did," he said. The others quickly got on board and developed a plan to implement the idea: Get the word out about the Holyoke Fund through the Enterprise, the local radio station, social media, and enlist high school students to personally call and inform everyone in town. Once they received all the donations, the amount would be divided based on how many employees each business owner had to lay off. "When people heard about it, they were more than happy to help," said Bennett. "It was heartwarming to see how many people stepped up to keep our businesses going."
"This was the best way we could make a difference," said Nancy Colglazier, executive director of Holyoke's Melissa Memorial Hospital Foundation. "When COVID-19 hit, we were devastated for our community." Colglazier and her husband, Harvey Colglazier divided one of their stimulus checks to the fund after noticing how abandoned their downtown had become since the pandemic hit the country. Even those who weren't eligible to receive stimulus checks pitched in, said chamber director Ferguson. "Some gave $10, some gave $100 and little kids came to my office to empty their piggy banks," she said. "Everyone did what they could and showed overwhelming compassion."