Rotary club match program raises $34K for local businesses

Ionia County

IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — While many small businesses have suffered financially due to COVID-19, there are also many people that are helping how they can, including the Ionia Rotary Club.

The club began its restaurant match program at the end of June. Their original goal was to raise $10,000 to give back to local businesses but the result quickly hit that mark and kept going up.

“We were shut down in March because of the coronavirus. We were limited to take-out food only,” said Antonio Velasco, the manager of El Mariachi Mexican Grill in Ionia.

Velasco says the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the restaurant, beginning with finances.

“Given that we’re limiting capacity to 50 percent, but all the bills are 100 percent,” said Velasco.

However, that struggle didn’t last too long for Velasco. He took part in the rotary club’s Eat Local First match program.

People could go into a dozen restaurants in the city, Mariachi being one of them, and buy a gift card. The rotary club would then match that amount.

“Matter of fact that day, we had people waiting outside the restaurant waiting to come in because of the limited capacity. Majority were just getting gift cards, I hadn’t seen that before, and that shows you how the community responded and how the program was well received,” said Velasco.

In total, more than $34,000 was raised.

“That’s what a service organization does. We’re here to serve and the community needed us,” said Paul Lentz, the president of the Ionia Rotary Club.

Lentz says the ultimate goal is to support local.

“We wanted to make sure that they had the benefit because those were the ones that were basically shut down during the coronavirus,” said Dan Mitchell, the Ionia Rotary Club treasurer.

Velasco’s advice for other business owners working to recover from the coronavirus shutdown is to just keep pushing forward.

“Continue to work on what you’re doing, and you will see that people will come out for you and support yourself,” said Velasco.

Velasco also mentioned that he’s now taking this good deed and pushing it forward by donating lunch to volunteers at Ionia Public Schools every Friday.

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