Coronavirus Civilian Corps works to help local businesses

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new “merry band of volunteers” is at work in Grand Rapids, and they want more people to get involved.

The idea is simple — coordinate through social media to place orders at one restaurant, brewery or cafe all at one time to give the business a noticeable boost.

Nate Gillespie, a Grand Valley State University graduate, came up with the idea with his friends and has worked to make it take off. He noticed a sense of helplessness amongst his friends and wanted to find a way to get involved and help, so he created the Coronavirus Civilian Corps.

There are three purposes to this new group: volunteering, fundraising and spending in a very specific way.

“Everyone needs to eat. Everyone wants good food. We might as well be spending that money and enjoying the delicacies of a restaurant that’s doing great things in the community already,” Gillespie said.

He announces the targeted spending campaigns on the CCC Facebook page, so that all his followers know where they should buy their meals on a specific day. For example, the group recently targeted City Built Brewing in Grand Rapids.

City Built Brewing co-owner Edwin Collazo said he was very appreciative of the surge of support.

“Having anyone shine their light on us is always a positive thing for us,” he said.

According to Collazo, the brewery’s sales are down 75-85% but has a goal of doing enough sales to keep brewing beer and paying the salaried managers their regular wage as they explore options for help with paying rent and other bills.

Besides giving the business a quick, one-day boost, he said a campaign like Gillespie’s may create repeat customers.

“We just keep telling ourselves as long as we’re hitting our goal, we’ll keep staying open,” he said.

Gillespie hopes to do these targeted spending campaigns more than once at each business.

“We want to really go back a second or third time so it’s more than a couple dozen people going out and buying food — so we can make a more meaningful impact,” Gillespie said.

CCC started as the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold with the focus on volunteering, which Gillespie said is the primary way most people can get involved in a hands-on way. They’re doing that through existing organizations, supporting efforts that are already out there and the experts who know what they’re doing.

He has also done micro-fundraising campaigns, where he asks for small donations from a lot of people that they can send to organizations, like Mel Trotter Ministries.

“They’re serving what we view as likely the highest risk population in the community,” he said.

Gillespie and his friends hope to grow CCC even more as businesses begin to reopen. Besides supporting the community, he sees this as an opportunity for young people like himself to feel a new purpose.

“For the people who want to help us and get involved, we want to lend them a sense of identity that they may be missing from not going to class anymore or not having a job. We want to give them a sense of I’m a part of something bigger than myself in this time of crisis,” he said.

Anyone interested in joining the targeted spending campaigns and trying new restaurants in Grand Rapids can follow the group on Facebook.