SHORELINE — Four local women, each with their own personal connections and expertise, have joined forces to help keep shoreline mom and pop shops open long after COVID-19.

The Gift Card Project was started to infuse money into local businesses that may remain shuttered for an indefinite time, while at the same time boosting the spirits of those in need or on the frontlines of this epidemic.

Gift cards can be purchased, online or in person, at local stores and restaurants and donated to The Gift Card Project. The cards, in turn, will be distributed through Guilford’s Women & Family Life Center, Madison Youth & Family Services, Yale New Haven Health, Middlesex Health and Bio-Med Devices, Inc.

The group effort is the brainchild of Madison resident, Amy Stefanowski, along with Guilford residents Catherine Kiernan Marganski, Meghan McCartan and Nicole White.

“It’s a way of thanking people that have supported our raffles over the years,” said Stefanowski. “How many of our local businesses, when we come to them and asked them, ’Can you give us something for a raffle prize? Would you donate a gift card?’ they always say ‘yes’ and support us.”

McCartan echoed this.

“This will hopefully help with all of these little stores that just say, ‘Yes, yes, yes’ all the time,” the Guilford resident said.

The group slogan is “Shop local. Thank local. Help local.”

For Guilford resident Nicole White, supporting her business community is important.

“This is my community,” she said. “I’m thrilled to be able to support the town that has given me so much.”

Stefanowski recalled feeling helpless while binge watching the news, “getting worked up, giving myself chest pain.

“Finally, I had to turn off the news and stop focusing on it and magically my chest pains went away,” the Madison resident said. “I started to feel better, but I had this feeling, like a lot of us do when we don’t know what to do, we want to do something.”

Each woman brings a different prospective to the project.

For McCartan, her first thoughts were the first responders, “that I feel are really putting themselves out for us.”

Working alongside the others, she has been impressed how fast the idea has taken off.

“We didn’t do anything super hard and its yielding tenfold,” she said. “It makes me happy if it can help all of these people.”

For White, a lifelong Guilford resident, keeping the entire town vibrant is very important.

“Obviously we’re concerned about the restaurants, but where the biggest concern, for me, are the people who legitimately can’t do anything,” the real estate broker with One + Company @ William Raveis Real Estate said.

“The hairdressers that are shut, the bookstores, the candy stores,” she said. “So, to be able to help get their story out…there’s so many other small businesses that are potentially being overlooked, where they need our help, too.”

As of Sunday, March 29, the group had collected over 60 gift cards, totally over $2,500. The individual cards are in the amount of $25 to $50.

Page Hardware & Appliance Co. has also made a commitment to the project. For every gift card purchased for The Gift Card Project at their store, they will match, dollar for dollar, in gift cards for other stores.

“It didn’t feel right to be a store that’s open and doing business and promoting for people to buy our gift cards when there are a lot of businesses that are closed and this is really meant to support those people,” said Page Hardware Vice President Amy Earls.

The project is a work in progress and the team is connecting through Zoom meetings, text messages and phone calls.

While it is currently concentrated in Guilford and Madison, there is the ability for it to grow and include other towns throughout the state.

“I would like to scale it so it’s not just two towns,” said Stefanowski. “I want to see if other towns can do it.”

As long as there is a coordinator in the town, any town can join in on the project, she added.

Marganski stressed this is a community-wide project.

“We’re all in this together,” the Guilford resident said.

“So, by helping other people we’re really helping everyone in our town,” she added. “We’re helping every citizen; we’re also helping every business. So, if we all work together to help each other, everything’s going to be OK.”

The Gift Card Project c/o One + Company, 350 Goose Lane, Suite 201B, Guilford, CT 06437; thegiftcardprojectct@gmail.com

For more information visit The Gift Card Project on Facebook; thegiftcardproject.com; The Gift Card Project

Connecticut Media Group