Despite the shrinking economy, the hearts of Lawrence business owners and employees appear to be expanding.
“If we’re all about just taking and thinking of ourselves, the economy will never recover,” said Rafael Gonzalez, owner of Global Café, 822 Mass.
“When we’ve received ourselves, it’s important to give something back to others. I admit it’s hard for us smaller businesses to contribute a lot, but we have to start somewhere. If we all agree to do something, there’s greater strength.”
Gonzalez has joined Lawrence’s GiveBack card program with 16 other local restaurants and Checkers grocery store in the hopes of significantly boosting local charities.
Six years ago, Constance Wolfe, co-owner of Halcyon House, a local B&B owner, spearheaded the Lawrence Dining Card that’s raised over $250,000 for local charities.
“People were becoming reluctant about selling cards,” said Wolfe.
“We wanted to try something different and make use of technological advances. We’ve finally figured it out. You don’t have to purchase the GiveBack card to help. You register online, use your card at Lawrence original restaurants and Checkers, and a percentage of your spending will go to your nominated charity. Starting in April, you’ll get regular online updates about your spending and subsequent donations.”
The scheme’s beauty is that local merchants like Gonzalez are empowered to do something however small, and cardholders who spend 200 points will get $10 back.
The Eldridge Hotel’s Ten Restaurant is part of the GiveBack program. It’s only one of the hotel’s many on-going charitable contributions.
“At a management staff retreat in 2006, we decided to conscientiously give back to the community,” said Nancy Longhurst, the hotel’s general manager.
The Eldridge is a major sponsor of the Lied Center and provides extra support by printing restaurant discounts on all Lied Center tickets. They also provide food for Lawrence Memorial Hospital Association’s Hearts of Gold annual ball, and Eldridge staff members serve on the steering committee and assist with the Penny Jones Golf Tournament.
“The hospital touches all our lives, and we believe it’s vital for Lawrence to have a strong community hospital,” said Longhurst.
“Cottonwood is another community organization we’re proud to be affiliated with. We host Cottonwood’s Wine Dinner event in the Crystal Ballroom, and management staff volunteer time for its Grand Tasting.”
The Eldridge has undertaken a new project this year – the April Dine, Dance and Donate event to raise funds for the Visiting Nurses Association’s Care Cottage. Longhurst chaired the committee that recruited people to hold private dinners in their homes. After dinner everyone will gather for dessert and dancing in the Eldridge’s Crystal Ballroom.
“All proceeds from the evening go directly to support the Care Cottage,” Longhurst said. “We never know when our own loved ones will need the support and care of VNA.”
The Eldridge also plans to continue its 15 years of underwriting the Gingerbread Festival & Auction, a benefit for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Douglas County.
“This is a true community event when people come to the hotel to view the creative gingerbread houses made by adults and kids. We love to support the kids in our community, and this is one terrific way to do it. It’s our corporate responsibility to assist the community when we can and make Lawrence the best place to raise a family,” she said.
Some national chains are also committed to local charitable giving.
Tom and Marilyn Dobski, who own and operate 13 McDonald’s restaurants throughout Northeast Kansas, including Lawrence, believe in supporting the local community. They’re Lawrence Education Achievement Partners with South and Southwest Junior High Schools, make donations to numerous Lawrence schools and churches, and support the McTeacher night fundraisers. Other McDonald’s beneficiaries include the Douglas County Red Cross, Douglas County Special Olympics, the City of Lawrence annual bike helmet safety rodeo, Lawrence Boys and Girls Club, the Lawrence Arts Center, United Way and Kansas University Endowment Association.