Alumnus leads grassroots effort to help W. Mich. nonprofits, small businesses
As government mandates to "stay home, stay safe" change the lives of millions of Americans, those choices of staying home instead of patronizing local businesses or volunteering are having a devastating impact on local economies.
One Grand Valley alumnus, Nate Gillespie, '18, is working to lead a growing group of West Michiganders to help support local businesses and nonprofits in their most trying times.
"We're a bunch of people who are interested in helping and seeing what effect we can collectively have on our community," Gillespie said of his newly formed grassroots organization, Coronavirus Civilian Corps. "Instead of everyone all trying to find ways to serve during this crisis individually, we are coalescing efforts of many people around one issue and mobilizing an army of volunteers and concerned residents."
Gillespie, an alumnus of Grand Valley's Cook Leadership Academy and Honors College, said the organization is using a three-pronged attack to help try to solve immediate problems in the community due to the coronavirus.
First is working to identify immediate volunteer needs in the community in organizations where help can be given in methods that meet social distancing guidelines due to health concerns.
Second is micro-fundraising — finding organizations with immediate funding shortfalls caused by increases in demand due to the coronavirus and helping them in the short term with small donations from many people, hopefully backed by matching funds from organizations with deeper pockets.
Third is targeted spend campaigns at local businesses that have been hardest hit by the crisis, with focuses on places that can see an immediate uptick from increased patronage of take-out orders like coffee shops, bakeries, restaurants and more.
"We know support systems like this already exist, and we're not trying to recreate the wheel, we're just trying to be nimble and help a little where and how we can," Gillespie said.
Using social media, Gillespie said the group has already amassed about 200 volunteers to help do work where they can, give what they are able, and do business with places that could really use some extra traffic.
"A big part of this is also trying to help give people back a part of their identity," Gillespie said. "For many people, work, or how they volunteer, or how they spend their money and time is a big part of who they are. We want to provide purpose for people who have had that taken away by this crisis."
Gillespie said the group started as a text between a few friends two weeks ago and has grown organically quickly. While his day job in Grand Rapids with Auxo Investment Partners, a private equity firm, doesn't directly relate to the group, he said having his pulse on the economy for his job combined with his finance and economics double major at Grand Valley really made him understand the difficulties many small businesses and nonprofits would face.
"I have seen these struggles small businesses are facing firsthand," Gillespie said. "It's given me and my friends a strong desire to help."
So far, they have targeted a micro-fundraising campaign for Mel Trotter Ministries, and did their first small business support push at the Mitten Brewing Company in Grand Rapids on April 2.
"We're a group of people who care about people," Gillespie said.
To get involved with the group, visit the Coronavirus Civilian Corps Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/COVID19CivilianCorps