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How to support Ottawa businesses through COVID-19: Local volunteers manage a website with info on delivery, pick-up and gift card options

By Greggory Clark on March 31, 2020

With local restaurants and stores around Ottawa temporarily closed due to COVID-19, many of the folks who make this city are really struggling.

A new website launched by volunteers aims to catalogue and promote local businesses, in the hopes that every one can see these tough times through.

Yes, the government has announced incredible initiatives to help small businesses manage the costs of staffing, in particular, however these initiatives don’t cover everything. Community support could be the difference-maker for your favourite local spot.

So far the listings at together-apart.ca include locally-owned salons, florists, bookstores, cafes, restaurants, music, retail and other businesses; with updated info on new (and changing) business models such as gift cards, online shops, curb-side pickup and delivery. The site’s goal is to highlight these efforts so consumers are aware when they can buy what they’re looking for from a local business.

This is new territory for many owners, so as they continue to adjust, the information is crowdsourced to remain up to date. Anybody can submit a listing. Because it’s crowdsourced—it’s on us to ensure Ottawa’s diversity is represented in the listings—please have a look and try to add at least one business you know is missing.

OK for Ottawa

New to Ottawa, the site is modelled after okforok.com, a volunteer-run site for Oklahoma which made its technical material available publicly for web developers. “It’s built in a way that then allows any non-technical volunteer to manage and maintain the site,” according to Mohammad Hashemi on the Ottawa team.

“If anyone is interest in building a similar site for their local community,” he adds, “they can contact us and we can quickly create a similar template that they can use.”

Apt613 connected with Mohammad, whose friends call him Mo, to ask questions about together-apart.ca via Twitter. If you can believe this, the guy works in tech, in Ottawa, and didn’t have Twitter up until days ago… We think we’re first to @ him.

Everything is free

Free for businesses, that is. The website is a one hundred per cent volunteer-driven initiative. “The outpouring of support has been great,” says Mo. “We’ve had many people contact us and volunteer hours… to help maintain the website, create content on social media, and respond to inquiries.”

“All of these folks have full-time jobs and are doing this in their personal time on evenings and weekends.”

“We all lose a part of our city if these businesses are no longer around.”

Right now, Mo and co. are actively looking for volunteers to “help spin up similar initiatives for surrounding towns” such as Gatineau, Aylmer, Almonte, Chelsea and Wakefield. If anyone reading this is interested, they can reach out to @hashemito or get in touch through the website.

Not just a small business problem

Mo—whose previous jobs included a stint as a senior Shopify employee, focusing on small businesses—stresses that the disruption caused by COVID-19 is “not just a small business problem.” This is an everybody problem.

“We all lose a part of our city if these businesses are no longer around once this crisis passes,” says Mo. “It would suck to walk down the streets of Ottawa once things are ‘normal’ again, only to find a lot of the local spots that we’ve enjoyed over the years vacant.”

If anyone wants to list their business on the site, they can submit here. Volunteers aim to verify and list all new submissions within 24 hours.