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Ann Arbor tech hub volunteers create gift card platform to help small businesses and healthcare workers

A2 Helps is a one-two punch for giving, helping and showing appreciation

The finished lobby at Cahoots on Jan. 7, 2020.
The finished lobby at Cahoots on Jan. 7, 2020. (Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Created in two weeks by a group of 11 volunteers, the A2 Helps platform is connecting generous donors to small businesses and hospital systems workers simultaneously.

Initially thought of by Cahoots co-founder Joe Malcoun, the website allows donors to give to frontline workers who can then purchase electronic gift cards to small businesses in Washtenaw County.

For each $100 donated, a code for a $100 e-gift card is sent to a healthcare or hospital systems worker as a sign of appreciation. Having only been operational since mid-April, over $160,000 has been donated through A2 Helps.

According to Malcoun, the reaction from hospitals has been positive and exciting. Restaurants and businesses have also been interested in joining the effort.

“And I think donors are feeling the same, because I think members of this community want to do something but they don’t know exactly how to do it,” Malcoun said. He explained that some donors may not want to have to purchase gift cards on their own but by donating through a platform, like A2 Helps, they can give larger sums that directly impact small businesses in addition to hospital workers.

According to Malcoun, a friend recently mentioned that as a city with a history of progressive policies, taking care of its small businesses is a way to show what it really values. A2 Helps offers donors an opportunity to put their money where their values are.

Gift cards recipients for A2 Helps come from a pool of workers including support staff, purchasing staff and janitorial staff, within the Ann Arbor hospital systems. For Malcoun, it was important to cast a wide net within the participant pool, “Because they’re just as at much risk and they’re making this all happen. Even people doing purchasing for hospitals -- their job is incredibly difficult right now but without it, we will not be able to defeat this pandemic.”

For Malcoun, and Alison Todak, who focuses on A2 Helps operations, all of the workers in the hospital systems are equally deserving of appreciation.

Currently, e-gift cards are available to around 40 businesses with about an additional 50 either in the process of joining or considering joining the platform.

Small businesses interested in participating can do so here.

As for his inspiration for the project, Malcoun said that from the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, he’s been concerned about Ann Arbor’s small business. As an owner of The Blind Pig, he wasn’t particularly worried about his own business but he was concerned for his friends with businesses.

The idea for A2 Helps came to Malcoun while he was talking with a friend who works for the mayor’s office in Detroit. After pitching A2 Helps to others working in Cahoots coworking space, volunteers jumped on the idea to create the platform.

A2 Helps makes it easy to show support for our local businesses and the heroes on the front lines of #COVID19. Learn more at a2helps.com #supportlocal #kindnessicontagioustoo

Posted by A2 Helps on Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Although spearheaded by Malcoun, every member of the small A2 Helps development group has their own reasons for wanting to participate in the effort.

“A2 Helps is more than just our name, it’s the mantra of the entire Ann Arbor community. Ever since I moved here, help has always been a few steps away,” said Jack Virag, who volunteers for the copywriting and marketing aspects of the platform.

“I've leaned on this community more times than I can count, through networking events, beautiful parks, a tech community, wonderful restaurants, great schools and hospitals, a local art culture, and much more. Simply put, this city made me who I am, and I'll always do what I can to give back.”

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A2 Helps App Developer Patrick McCarren said, “One of my favorite things to do is spend time at and support my favorite restaurants. The toll the pandemic has taken on our local businesses is already painfully obvious and with A2 Helps we are able to help alleviate some of that pain while also providing a token of our appreciation to those helping the most.”

On top of connecting donors to small businesses and workers, A2 Helps is also intended as a place to aggregate all of the information about helping the Ann Arbor community.

Malcoun said that while the team won’t be making similar platforms for other communities, he and the rest of the team are willing to share the code and other resources they used.

Learn more about the A2 Helps team and about how to donate here.

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