Gift card challenge a success for businesses during COVID-19

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, October 3, 2020

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closures or limitations of businesses earlier this year, the Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau started a gift card challenge in response.

Through the challenge, people can purchase gift cards in $25 increments from local businesses, and then ask the business to hold the gift card. The gift card purchaser will then fill out a form on the CVB’s website, The CVB will then contact the business with the name of a person in need who has been granted the use of the gift card. People in need of immediate help can fill out a form on the CVB’s website to be connected with gift cards as well.

“Now more than ever, shopping local is a matter of doors ever being able to open again for many of our local restaurants and retailers,” said Holly Karsjens, Albert Lea CVB and Main Street Program executive director, in an April interview with the Tribune. “They have worked so extremely hard to get where they were before this storm overcame us, let’s pull together and sandbag around them with our support so they don’t get swept away.”

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The challenge has only grown in the months since its inception. As of early September, 157 gift cards for a total of $4,200 had been donated through the initiative. At the beginning of the challenge, Farmers State Bank said it would match the first $1,500 in gift cards purchased with more cards purchased from local businesses.

Farmer’s State Bank matched the first $1,500 in gift cards purchased with more cards purchased from local businesses. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

“We’re a community bank, and a lot of the businesses here in town are going through a unique time,” said Brandon Brackey, the business deposit officer and information security officer with Farmers State Bank. “It’s the least we can do.”

“We had so many givers, it really showcases how awesome our community is, and willing to lend a hand to our small businesses as well as the rest of the community,” Karsjens said in September.

She said every call or email to notify someone has been met with gratitude and excitement, and a desire to pay it forward.

“We had quite a few who wanted to pay it forward to others, and many that did. They would turn around and purchase another card and donate it,” Karsjens said. “Businesses were happy to have people buying cards, and to have maybe people that had never been in their store have a great excuse to now shop there — either with curbside, online or in person.”

She said she would love to continue the pay-it-forward program, but, above all, wants the community to know that they can pay kindness forward all on their own as well.

“Grab a gift card from your favorite store the next time you’re there, and put it in the mail to a special someone to let them know you’re thinking of them; have fun with it, and leave it unsigned,” Karsjens said. “Or the next time you order food, pay for the person behind you.”

“It’s very easy, given what the circumstances are, to do everything online,” Brackey said. “But Amazon isn’t going to support sports or other community projects. This community makes this town what it is.”

“The program was really successful because of the people, I hope they know that,” Karsjens said. “And that they can do it any time, any where on there own.”


About Colleen Harrison

Colleen Harrison is the photo editor at the Albert Lea Tribune. She does photography and writes general-assignment stories.

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