It pays to live in Earlham, Iowa. Residents of the town of 1,400, about 30 miles west of Des Moines, discovered a surprise in their mailboxes Thursday in the form of $150 in gift cards to local businesses. An anonymous donor spent more than $82,000 to ensure all 549 households received $50 gift cards to West Side Bar and Grille, the Hometown Market grocery store, and Trostel's Broken Branch, a restaurant and coffee shop, reports the Des Moines Register. Mayor Jeff Lillie had received a March 26 call from a man acting on behalf of the donor, who'd offered to share 100 gift cards. That number was soon raised to 250, then to 500. Lillie noted that was almost enough to give one card to each household, at which point the donor upped the ante yet again.
The mayor, himself a small-business owner, "broke down," per the Register. "[There are] bad things that have been happening ... and then here's this really great thing," he said. "It just tore down my walls," he added. "Financially, it's one of the biggest things that's ever happened to this small town." The move, resulting in gift cards mailed out Tuesday, also brought tears to Jennifer Trostel, the wife of the owner of the new Trostel's Broken Branch, which was just beginning to open when restaurants were forced to end dine-in service due to the coronavirus. It has been unable to offer takeout as they hadn't hired a full staff yet, and because Trostel's husband is diabetic and at an increased risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19. "You couldn't believe that people would actually want to help you in such a huge way," Trostel says of the $27,000 purchase. "It just gave us hope." (Read more uplifting news stories.)