Partners forge restaurant relief program

COVID-19 changed Tonya Martin’s workaday world from one of frequent travel, to one that is tethered to home in Montrose. But with that change came more connection to the community, and, through her work, an idea to help the struggling restaurant industry.

With Our Town Matters, the Montrose Community Foundation, City of Montrose and donors, Martin is launching a Montrose version of Help4Hope, a nonprofit program created by the Watterson Family Foundation in partnership with the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce (South Carolina) and the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.

The program provides meals for families while generating business for local restaurants. With donated and grant funds, Help4Hope provides community investment meal cards that people can redeem at participating restaurants; these are one-time use and provide the bearer with a meal for four, valued at $50, with the available menu items at the discretion of the restaurants. The restaurant in return receives $50 through the program, which is paid through the Montrose Community Foundation.

“This is probably the first time I’ve dove into Montrose life. I lived my life in an airplane every week. Now that I have been grounded, I was wondering what to do to fill time,” said Martin, who works for a Watterson company. Owner Billy Watterson told her about Help4Hope and suggested doing it in Montrose.

“We love our restaurants and I’ve always been very passionate about feeding people. It was a natural kind of progression from there,” Martin said.

She reached out to Sara Plumhoff, executive director of the Montrose Community Foundation, and with her formed a committee to bring the program to life. Other collaborators include Jane Marie Amundson, Sarah Fishering, Casey Corrigan and Bethany Maher.

“We don’t typically get a chance to help with the businesses as much as we help with the nonprofits,” Plumhoff said. The foundation previously established a COVID-19 relief fund to help nonprofits. Help4Hope is its chance to support for-profit businesses while also thanking those who are working hard and making sacrifices, Plumhoff said.

Help4Hope aims to provide food for residents and also immediate funds for local restaurants, Tonya Maddox, CEO of Our Town Matters, said.

“We all got together and said we thought this would be great to launch here in Montrose. … What we saw as a group, is that these needs are going to be long-term. Families are going to be affected because their incomes have changed. We wanted to relieve some of the pressure by allowing people to have some normalcy.”

Being able to have the equivalent of a meal out can help people feel that sense of normalcy, while also allowing them to direct to other expenses the money they might have spent out of pocket on the meal — plus the card program provides restaurants with immediate income.

“No one has to prove anything to receive those cards. The idea is to help the average, everyday person to use the funds they would ordinarily use for a night out (for bills),” Maddox said.

“I feel like what we’re trying to do is help (restaurants) survive,” Martin said. “They have gone several weeks now without being able to have their standard format. Now they’re doing take-out. We’re trying to supplement them a little bit.

“We feel like a lot of restaurants right now are trying to change their model to a takeout model, but you can’t survive six weeks of lost revenue.”

Help4Hope could possibly pivot to a similar strategy for retail shops, although coming up with a strategy for that is more difficult. The program could also lay groundwork for helping restaurants in the future, if they are able to fully reopen and there is a resurgence of the virus, Martin said.

Separately, Martin’s husband, Brent Martin, purchased $40 gift cards and distributed 123 of them to first responder agencies, based on a proportional number of first responders at the Montrose Fire Protection District, Montrose Police Department and Montrose County Sheriff’s Office.

Help4Hope has already begun receiving donations and had about $7,500 as of Friday, according to Maddox. The program has also received grants and is accepting donations. These can be made at or mailed to the Montrose Community Foundation, P.O. Box 3020, Montrose, CO 81402. Help4Hope’s website is expected to be online in a few days.

“People have been extremely generous. It’s not directed toward just helping the needy, but to helping the everyday person or professional,” Maddox said.

“The restaurants have taken a toll that takeout and delivery will not come close to meeting their income needs. With these cards, it’s (income) immediate.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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