The residents of Earlham, Iowa got a welcome surprise in their mailboxes this week. An anonymous donor made sure that every one of the 549 Earlham's 549 household received $150 in gift cards from local retailers and restaurants.
A representative of the donor contacted Mayor Jeff Lillie on March 26 and explained that they wanted to help the local economy and its residents by purchasing $50 gift cards to the local grocery store, Hometown Market and $50 gift cards to the West Side Bar and Grille. The mayor mentioned another local restaurant that had just opened and was struggling, so the donor added Trostel's Broken Branch restaurant to the list as well.
After a few more conversations between the representative and Mayor Lillie, the donor increased his contribution of 250 cards to 500, so when the mayor commented "That's almost one per household," the representative asked how many would be needed to cover the whole town. There are 549 households in Earlham.
Mayor Lillie told reporters that he thought 549 cards split between the businesses was more than generous, but he was shocked when the representative told him that they would purchase a $50 gift card from each of the three businesses, giving each resident $150 in gift cards.
The unexpected gift of $82,000 to his town was overwhelming for the mayor, who said "As the mayor of a small town, making the decision to close our community centers and city hall and our library and all of the other bad decisions that we’ve been forced to make — and then here's this really great thing. It just tore down my walls."
The mayor and his staff worked for days with the local businesses to secure enough gift cards for the donation, and then stuffed envelopes with the gift cards and a letter to be placed in mailboxes.
While he still doesn't know who the donor was, Mayor Lille and is eternally grateful "Financially, it's one of the biggest things that's ever happened to this small town," he said.
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