HackCville Executive Director Daniel Willson’s team was looking for ways to support the Corner in response to the pandemic. Weeks later, savethecorner.com was developed to raise money for restaurants on the commercial strip across from the University of Virginia, provide meals to those who are less privileged and the Charlottesville Restaurant Workers Fund. The site allows people to donate money that will be used for meals for the World Central Kitchen. HackCville previously raised money to help feed the University of Virginia’s Aramark workers who have been furloughed, but Willson said he learned Aramark no longer needed the assistance. Savetheconer.com gives people a list of restaurants on The Corner where they can buy a gift card, and another option to donate to the Charlottesville Restaurant Workers Fund. “We wanted to give people a couple of options on how they could support and kind of leave it up to the individual donors,” Willson said. “A huge part of this is that we have a huge student network ― our newsletter goes out to thousands of students. We knew we could get it in front of a lot of people.” The pressure of the pandemic has gotten tougher for some restaurateurs recently. When Gov. Ralph Northam ordered nonessential businesses to close, some closed temporarily. But some wound up shuttering for good. There have been efforts to help entrepreneurs stay afloat, like Charlottesville’s Office of Economic Development, which rolled out several grants and loans like its Building Resiliency Among Charlottesville Entrepreneurs program.
Willson said more than $2,500 already has been raised, stressing it’s been overwhelming to see how students have been able to not only support restaurants but the Aramark workers as well who feed them in the dining halls during the school year. He suggested students give their favorite restaurant on the Corner a call to see if they can buy a gift card or buy online ― and even if they’re not going to spend that money, later it helps these businesses to have that cash on hand right now. Setting up websites that house resources to support the area is not new. With the severity of the need of personal protective equipment, Equip Cville was formed to collect medical supplies after a group of doctors drafted a letter to Northam to call on organizations that had existing supplies but closed due to the outbreak to donate them to health providers. Equip Cville can be accessed on the Support Cville website. Willson said normally during the summer his organization ― whose mission is to help students learn effective skills and help local companies gain access to talented students ― focuses on helping students find work at local tech companies and startups. As much as his team knows how to help out companies in town, Willson said this pandemic is also a time to use the talent at HackCville to help build things. “We are excited to see what other initiatives and projects we can put together the next couple of months to continue helping businesses and people in need during this time,” Willson said. “We’re happy to get in touch with small businesses that might need tech help, whether that would be setting up gift cards to be sold online or something else.” Corner Juice is among the eateries that HackCville has purchased meals from to support businesses on the Corner. Its co-owner, Julie Nolet, said that the pandemic has presented many challenges. But she said that has allowed her to be better at what she does, including improving operations and being more health conscious. Safety has always been important, but the team has improved now that it has to focus on making sure that the eatery is providing healthy food in a safe way, Nolet said. “Not allowing people in our locations is definitely a challenge because that’s a big part of our operations, which is allowing people inside to interact with us,” Nolet said. She added the challenges have been interesting, but they have not held the company back. Corner Juice has been working on an app over the last couple of weeks. Launching in a week or so, the app will allow Corner Juice to receive orders from patrons and track their rewards. Corner Juice’s patrons will receive little gifts here and there, Nolet explained, allowing the eatery to organize its customer base in “an easy way.” “We’ve been wanting to do that for quite some time, but it’s been hard to find the time to do it just because we’ve been so busy with students,” she said. “Now the students are gone, a lot of the community is at home, we’re able to focus on these things like deliveries and creating [an] app.” Although businesses are now starting to close permanently, that is not a trend that worries Nolet. “Being in a position where we provide healthy food, we’re very lucky in that sense,” said Nolet, whose eatery brand operates a location on The Corner and another on the Downtown Mall. “These kinds of things ― healthy food and quick grab-and-go ― actually thrive in situations like this. I don’t see us stopping at any point in time. I think we’re actually going to be thriving through this.”