Coronavirus pandemic provides an opportunity for the local community to come together

ROCKFORD — Businesses and residents are working together to support first responders and health care workers, and injecting some much-needed energy into the local economy in the process.

Restaurants have been especially hard hit by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced them to rely on carryout and delivery orders to survive. An online initiative called Rally for Restaurants, organized by restaurant technology providers, public and private companies, and restaurant owners and workers, is designed to build support for the industry amid the crisis by encouraging consumers to buy restaurant gift cards.

Raynor Garage Doors, a manufacturer based in Dixon, joined the online effort, announcing in a news release that all 500 of its employees would receive gift cards to use at local restaurants. Raynor Door Authority of Rockford is the company's dealer here.

In Loves Park, Nick Fosberg, owners of Fozzy's Bar and Grill, created a program to say thanks to people working in hospitals while generating some business of his own. He partnered with It’s On Me, a company that gives businesses the opportunity to sell gift cards to their customers. Fosberg wanted customers to be able to gift a meal with their own personal touch to a health care worker or first responder.

Customers can go to his website to input the email or phone number of the person the gift is for. The recipient will get a personalized digital message along with a $12 gift card that can be redeemed at any time.

“They get this personal message and it’s more of a thank-you for doing what you’re doing for the community and putting your health and life on the line each day during these hard times,” Fosberg said.

Holly Hunt was one of the customers who wanted to say thank you.

She has a friend who is a nurse, so it was an easy decision for her to support both her friend and a local business.

“Nick supports his community so I think it’s important that we support our local businesses back,” Hunt said.

Hunt wanted to find other ways to show support to essential workers.

She first tried to rally fellow Jeep owners through a Facebook page called Screw City Jeeps 815, the idea being for Jeep owners to drive to local hospitals and flash their lights as a sign of support for the workers inside.

After the hospitals advised Hunt that they would rather the Jeeps stay in the garage while their owners shelter in place, she turned to Plan B and asked people to record themselves flashing their headlights in their driveways and posting the images to the Facebook page 815 Loves Their Frontline.

“We’re behind them, we support them and we see them out there putting their life on the line dealing with this while the rest of us are staying home — blessed to be home,” Hunt said.

Shaquil Manigault; smanigault@rrstar.com; @RrstarShaquil