You may not be able to smell the coffee roasting in person at your local café, but buying a gift card for a local business is one way of showing support while staying at home. Now, four Terps are intending to make that—plus charitable giving—even easier. 

Through TogetherCard, a gift card search engine plus fundraising site, a group of UMD friends is hoping to help the public support small businesses or organizations $25 or $50 at a time while also giving back to those on the frontlines of the pandemic. 

“The idea of connecting fundraising to small businesses, having small businesses make money for themselves, and then we reward a frontline worker who’s really getting us through this COVID pandemic—it’s wins all the way around,” said John Fagan ’17, one of TogetherCard’s founders. 

In March, Fagan, who lives in the Bay Area, and Marcellus Davenport ’18, in Dallas, were brainstorming ways to volunteer during the pandemic when they landed on the idea of a gift card search engine for community restaurants, breweries, shops and more. They reached out to another buddy, Michael Wittner ’19 in College Park, to help Davenport develop the tech end of things and to Terp Jorge Richardson in Bethesda to work on marketing and partnerships. Soon, some 50,000 businesses nationwide were listed on the TogetherCard search engine.

Other companies quickly had the same idea for a gift card search engine, so TogetherCard decided to do them one better by adding a way to give directly to those on the frontlines during the pandemic. 

Partnering with grocery store Jeannotte’s Market in Nashua, N.H.—where a longtime friend of Fagan’s is related to the owner—the TogetherCard team aimed to raise $2,000 in donations to buy subs for first responders. In just one day, they raised $2,100. “It’s unbelievable how fast it went,” said Fagan.

Now, the team is looking to create more such campaigns. For Teacher Appreciation Week, which began yesterday, the crew initially planned to encourage people to buy a gift card for a teacher, but shifted to raising funds for a small nonprofit rather than a business: New Hampshire’s End 68 Hours of Hunger, an organization that provides food to kids who might not eat outside of school. “After talking with teachers, they really want us to help their kids out,” said Fagan. 

The TogetherCard squad is already imagining what they might do once the initial phase of the pandemic passes. “In the future, these small businesses aren’t going to be hunky dory, everything going back to normal,” said Fagan. “I think our eventual pivot will be … how do we help small businesses keep this growth and recoup some of the losses?”