A novel concept to benefit local businesses was a success in Sturgis, Kalamazoo and other communities in Michigan.

Now, Three Rivers will attempt to replicate the accomplishment, thanks in large part to Three Rivers Area Community Foundation. Its executive director, Melissa Bliss, said the “$20 for $20” gift card promotion is an effort that will benefit nearly 50 businesses in the 49093 ZIP code.

Bliss said the program goes live at noon Friday. She and Christy Trammell, director of Three Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce, had been discussing ways to help support small businesses, especially restaurants, when the initiative began.

“It was really nice to see how other communities were piloting the program,” Bliss said. “When we saw what Sturgis had done and additionally how Kalamazoo had done a similar type of program, it really put a fire under us to try to work with the chamber and our DDA to find a way to make this happen.”

Over the past six weeks, the community foundation has provided funding and assistance for residents and households through its emergency relief campaign, Bliss said. In a follow-up phase of helping with recovery efforts, the foundation expanded its reach to include small-business partners and non-profits.

From that focus, Bliss said, “$20 for $20” was born.

She explained how the program works.

“Anyone can purchase a $20 gift card – with a cap of no more than four per person – through a link on the foundation’s website starting at noon Friday,” she said. “They can select from any of about 50 participating businesses, and then what the foundation will do in collaboration with the DDA and Chamber is match the purchase with an identical $20 gift card to the same business.”

Bliss said the foundation committed $5,000 toward the program, an amount that allows it to match the purchase of 250 gift cards.

Bonus gift cards are available only with gift cards purchased through the foundation’s website, starting at noon today. The offer will expire after 250 gift cards are purchased or through the end of the month, whichever occurs first.

“We will then purchase all the gift cards from the businesses,” Bliss said, adding that the cards will be mailed within five to seven days afterward.

“I think it’s worth clarifying that a person couldn’t go into The Oasis (restaurant), for example, buy a $20 gift card and expect to receive a second $20 gift card … again, the purchase has to be made through the Three Rivers Community Foundation website.”

She said the foundation will continue the program if anyone wishes to make financial donations to the foundation. A $100 cash donation, for example, allows the foundation to match the purchase of five additional gift cards.

“This isn’t costing the participating businesses anything, they just had to commit early on in the process and let us know whether they wanted to be in on it or not,” Bliss said.

The foundation’s only requirement for participating businesses is that they are locally owned (that is, not a franchise), in the 49093 ZIP code and employ fewer than 50 people, she said.

“In essence, it’s a $10,000 boost to our local community between the $5,000 in gift card purchases and the $5,000 matching gift card amount.”

A list of participating business is available at www.threeriversfoundation.com.