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Hometown Giving

Sally Berlin (far left) of Crystal Crate & Cargo, Kitty Ely of Northern Decor, and Jonathan Clark (far right) of L’Chayim all participate in Hometown Giving, a project created by Cameron Clark (middle). Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.

Give thoughtful gifts and support local causes

“Bob’s Mom and Dad are downsizing and giving their things away, but he doesn’t want to just ignore them over the holidays; what should he do?”

“Lisa’s birthday is next week, but I don’t know what to get her—really, she could afford anything she wants. I just need a way to show that I care about what’s important to her.”

“Wow, I hate that the hardware store closed downtown. I guess it’s too tough to compete with the bigger chain stores these days.”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a gift as: “Something given freely, with no expectation of return.” Perhaps unspoken is the thought that people want the gifts they give to make others happy; they want their gifts to show that they know and honor the people who are receiving them.

Ours is a gift-driven culture, and Americans are notoriously generous, taking great pleasure in giving gifts to others. We give gifts for birthdays, religious holidays, graduations, house-warmings, retirements, new babies, romantic gestures, and many times for no reason at all. Even in a society saturated with stuff, we struggle—but still try—to find “that perfect gift” for each occasion.

That perfect gift used to be readily available just down the street, no matter where folks lived. Small towns—and even larger towns with neighborhood retail areas—offered an assortment of shops where customers could find both life’s necessities and the little luxuries. For many years, however, the landscape of the local shopping scene has been changing drastically. Those who remember living during a time when shopping needs were met locally have become almost numb to the number of mom-and-pop businesses that continue to close their doors.

Michael, Jonathan, and Cameron Clark remember the time of local merchants very well. Years ago, their parents owned specialty men’s and women’s clothing shops in downtown Beulah. One of those shops was the same location as the present-day L’Chayim Delicatessen, owned by Jonathan. (L’Chayim has since expanded and opened a deli in Frankfort, as well.)

While Jonathan celebrates his Northern Michigan roots by operating a successful business where his parents once did, his brothers Michael and Cameron have taken a different path. Last November, they established “Hometown Giving,” a website that champions both local businesses and area nonprofits in Benzie and surrounding counties.

Giving gifts has never been easier, particularly when done through the website www.HomeTownGiving.com.

For example, if Bob wants to give his parents an anniversary gift worth $100, he logs on to the website and creates an account. Under the “Give a Gift” tab, he types in the amount he wants to give, plus the recipient’s name and email address. There is even a place for Bob to type a gift message to his parents during the secure checkout process.

Bob’s parents will then receive an email, generated by the website, informing them that they have received a gift in the amount of $100 from Hometown Giving. They can then visit the website, and click on the “Redeem a Gift” tab. Bob’s parents are able to peruse the list of businesses and charities registered on the site. If Bob’s parents decide they want to redeem their gift for the Roadhouse Mexican Bar & Grill, they can have a nice dinner at the top of the hill in Benzonia and still have money left over. They click on the Roadhouse icon and enter their coupon code and how much they want to redeem at the restaurant. If they decide to redeem $50 for dinner, they can either use the other $50 at a later time (and on another business if they wish), or they can follow prompts to donate the remaining $50 to an area nonprofit such as the Friends of the Betsie Valley Trail.

One nice aspect of Hometown Giving is that the person giving the gift can live anywhere, yet give a gift to support the businesses and charities that are local to their recipient. In our example with Bob and his parents, Bob might live in Chicago, but his parents could live in Benzonia, and that is why they chose to redeem their gift certificates for a restaurant and a nonprofit that are close by.

“We wanted to not only promote local business—because it’s so hard for them to compete with big-box chain stores—but we also wanted to provide a way for people to become aware of and support their local charities,” Cameron says. “Nonprofit organizations exist to help people. But all too often, they are forced to spend their time and resources raising operating capital. We wanted to offer a way for people to support these agencies and free them to do the work they intended to do.”
Registration with Hometown Giving is free for nonprofit organizations and done through a quick online application process. For $75 per year, area businesses can register on the website, too. Additionally, during the initial registration process, $25 of the fee is donated to that business’s charity of choice.

The Clarks are reaching out to local businesses and nonprofits they are most familiar with—Michigan’s northwest corridor—with the goal to saturate that market by the end of this year. In the future, they plan to expand Hometown Giving throughout Michigan and eventually take it nationwide.

For now, if you scroll to the bottom of the website, there is a list of “hometowns” to choose from: Benzonia, Beulah, Elk Rapids, Frankfort, Honor, Kaleva, Manistee, Thompsonville, and Traverse City. Click on a hometown to see which businesses and nonprofits are located in that area and participating in the program—everything from the Benzie Central Gridiron Club to Hilltop Soda Shoppe to Grow Benzie. Even brother Jonathan’s L’Chayim Delicatessen is listed among the businesses in Beulah’s list.

“We are trying to grow thoughtfully and cover the bases carefully during the process,” Cameron explains. “We don’t want the growth to happen in an out-of-control fashion, which it easily could.”
The Clark brothers welcome all small businesses and any nonprofits in the area to apply. In keeping with that spirit, big-box stores and chain establishments need not apply.

“We are about keeping dollars local and helping small business owners generate the income needed to live and prosper,” Cameron says.

Businesses interested in registering with Hometown Giving can access the application by visiting www.HomeTownGiving.com/business-sign-up. Nonprofits may register on the website through www.HomeTownGiving.com/charity-sign-up. You can also visit on.fb.me/1GI6AU5 to follow Hometown Giving on Facebook.

Feature photo: Sally Berlin (far left) of Crystal Crate & Cargo, Kitty Ely of Northern Decor, and Jonathan Clark (far right) of L’Chayim all participate in Hometown Giving, a project created by Cameron Clark (middle). Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.

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